“If my history. My indisputable British history has never been visited where does that put me? If we are only going to look at things that need a revisit you are wiping me out of this countries history”
Last Thursday night saw the opening of the British Film Festival in London and marking a change in direction, diversity was the major talking point. David Oyelowo’s keynote speech at the Black Star Symposium became the prime focus in its context and plea for more diverse presentation of people of colour.
Presented by BFI creative director Heather Stewart; The British Film Institute carried out research which looked look at the representation of black actors in more than 1,000 UK films over the last decade – showing that 59% of British films in the last decade had no black actors in lead roles.
The typical black roles and stereotypes presented in film are easiest to digest and abundantly flow in the film industry. However a true reflection of the multicultural country that Britain is and the perspectives which tell the real history of its residents, communities and stories are not being told.
With that being the state of British film industry it is no wonder a great number of gifted actors have moved across the pond to the States where they felt there talents would be more utilised. Naomie Harris (Moneypenny in James Bond movies) when asked at the Moonlight movie premier about the research findings of the BFI, said “It’s not surprising because that’s what we see, we see a lack of diversity. But what I think is really positive is that is changing and I think this year in particular shows that.”
David Harewood (Homeland) while speaking to Radio 4 said that there is more opportunity in the US for black actors to play authoritative roles. Amongst them David Oyelowo who now lives in LA also spoke openly about his move due to the lack of opportunity for black actors. These sentiments are echoed deeply because we lose out on great actors who can portray great stories here on our own turf.
During his speech at the Black Star Symposium David talked about the importance of the positioning of powerful decision makers of different demographics; he added that this is the only way in which to achieve diversity in film in the U.K. “You are the curators of culture. You are those who are going to shape the minds of those coming up.” He gave the example of Tendo Nagenda; who of Ugandan decent walked the script of Queen of Katwe up and down Disney for years and finally came to a position of power where he could tell this story of such significance. When David told his 12 year old son at the time that he would be in the movie, his son asked if he would be playing the best friend. That statement alone gears up repeated questions about the common perception about people of colour in film.
David’s emotion came across when he recollected visits from his colleagues to LA, tearfully relating their shared frustration; “we have sat there together, we have prayed together, we have scratched our heads together, we have felt displaced together, we have felt abandoned together. They are still here. I felt I had to leave.” This heavy notion of needing to leave Britain in order to flourish in your field is ridiculous, it is simply a talent drain.
David leaves with some strong advice “Don’t pat yourself on the back because you made that black drama. Bully for you. That’s not diversity. It’s got to be baked into the foundation of where the ideas flow from.”