It’s award season again, and you know what that means…. Yes! It’s time for arguably the biggest award ceremony in the British music calendar – The Brit Awards.
Last year’s drama gave birth to the #BritsSoWhite hashtag. Following the barrage of complaints about last year’s awards ignoring Black British artists, Brits Chairman Ged Doherty, vowed to shake things up. The plan was to add more music influencers from black and ethnic minority backgrounds to the 1,100 strong voting panel.
In his open letter, Ged Doherty, denied that there was any malicious bias but noted there is an institutional problem, resulting in the makeup of nominees not reflecting the current British music scene.
“We are therefore surveying its [voting panel] makeup, which, I suspect, is largely white and with a bias towards older men. This does not mean that there is an underlying prejudice at play, but the unintended consequence is that emerging genres of music may not be properly recognised.”
Diversity is a word that’s been thrown around a lot in recent years. Social media has made things so much more transparent. People, ideas, music, everything is a lot more accessible. When we all saw that impact various black British artists had on popular culture, but didn’t see that reflected in the 2016 awards, that was a problem!
“The awards should, first and foremost, reward the very best and most popular British music, but the playing field for that judgment must also be even. Everyone, regardless of background, should have an equal opportunity to impress.
There is a second issue. Currently, to be nominated you must have achieved Top 40 success – but we must now go further. There are performers, including grime artists, who may not have achieved major chart success but who have attracted large followings, including through social media. This level of engagement is at present not part of Brits eligibility and this, perhaps more than any other factor, has caused the nominations to be seen as unrepresentative by some.”
Along with sorting the ethnic imbalance, there were promises to level the gender gap, age and regional representation of the voting panel.
I was intrigued by the hotly anticipated 6-part drama, Undercover, staring award winning/ Oscar nominated Sophie Okonedo and award winning Adrian Lester. Not only because they are talented actors and the intriguing story, but in a rare feature on British television, the two leading actors are black.
What’s even more powerful is that their characters and the story isn’t hinged on their ethnicity. Without giving too much away, it’s an intense story written by award-winning playwright Peter Moffat, about undercover police officers, the death penalty, injustice, scandal, blackmail, love & marriage, deceit, neurological/mental and terminal illness and much more…
Undercover displays middle-class people of colour in prominent careers, but most importantly in real life situations doing normal things, that anyone can relate to.
They joys and the struggles of life.
After watching the first episode, I was torn by my own emotions of suspense, sadness, pity, disbelief, happiness and shock.
In recent months there’s been a spotlight on the lack of diversity on TV; from black (British) actors being stereotyped for certain roles and even having to go abroad (mainly to America) to get jobs.
Photo: Des Willie/BBC
Previously, Sophie Okenedo (who is of Jewish and Nigerian descent) stated that she receives more scripts for American productions, than British ones. She spoke about how welcomed she felt in New York, when performing on Broadway alongside Denzel Washington, in “A Raisin in the Sun.”
Moffat admitted that the casting of black lead actors was not planned from the beginning, but came about as the story evolved.
Some may argue that why is it worth talking about the actors being black, it’s 2016?!
Exactly, it’s 2016 and there’s still some way to go until we see a fair representation of Black/Asian and other minority groups on British television, but steps are being taken. It’s not completely gloomy, there have been black actors in British productions, including EastEnders, Luther and the ‘90’s sitcom Desmond’s, but is diversity starting to be fully uncovered on British TV screens? Of course diversity doesn’t begin and end with Black people, as the UK is a nation with a rich immigrant culture. Other ethnic groups have the same resources at their disposal to make their voices heard.
Photo: Sipa USA/Rex
Earlier this year, Chief Executive of the BAFTA awards, Amanda Berry admitted that there was still a lack of diversity on screen and behind the scenes. She claims it’s the film industry’s fault for not making roles for ethnic minority actors. Which translates into fewer ethnic minority actors being nominated for awards.
“Not enough films are being made with diverse talent in front of the camera.”
After taking a few minutes getting over the fact that the two lead character were black (yes, I admit it – growing up in England, I’ve watched British TV my whole life and this was a rare occurrence), I became completely submersed in the gripping story. Sophie Okonedo’s intense acting pulled me into her character, Maya, where I could feel what she felt. After that I didn’t focus on anyone’s skin colour, I was just transfixed by the acting, by the story, and the story is the main attraction.
I was also impressed by the acting of the children during the first episode, not because they are black, but because they were compelling and highlighted young British acting talent.
I can’t wait until episode 2, my Sunday nights at 9pm are planned for the next 5 weeks! Here’s the trailer for the BBC1 series Undercover.
Snippets of an African legacy, from a colourful perspective.
Eighty-seven years of filming excellence…The Oscars. In recent times the ‘race issue’ has coloured the Academy Awards ceremony causing fierce debate. Arguably the most prestigious film award ceremony in the world, it’s no wonder such as big stage highlights how homogenous the mainstream film industry is.
Race on its own is a complex issue and when it infiltrates other facets of life; its texture remains the same. In 2014, 12 Years A Slave was a big hit in the world of cinema; winning Oscars among other awards and introduced the masses to an unknown Kenyan woman – Lupita Nyong’o. But as some criticised, it was ‘another slave film’. This year a film depicting (once again) the oppression of black people, Selma ignited the latest race debate, generating hash tags on twitter such as, #OscarsSoWhite. Selma was nominated for Best Picture which it didn’t win last night, but the fact that leading actor British-Nigerian David Oyelowo and director Ava DuVernay were not considered in their respective categories caused upset.
Unfortunately oppression is a significant piece of the history and present of black people, and these stories need to be re-told, not just for black people but the rest of the world. Aside from the apparent snub of Selma by the Academy, the main issue isn’t just Selma but the lack of representation of black and other ethnic minorities in mainstream cinema.
Give credit where credit is due.
Not every black actor out here is good (as with actors of other races), but even after 87 years of golden statues, the shade of the tans have changed but Hollywood still remain predominately white. Part of this is due to where you start the race, as we know not all people are created equal. When the Academy Awards first started, black people in America were not even allowed to vote! Considering this, there has been progress and it seems easier for black actors to ‘make it’ in America than in other countries, such as Britain.
Most people actually thought Idris Elba was African-American when he stared (as a drug dealer) in the hit series, The Wire. Idris along with David Oyelowo, ChiwetelEjiofor (and many other black British actors) were hardly mentioned in British media or given the opportunities (it seems) to showcase their talents on such a big stage until they went across the pond, so I guess it’s not all bad.
Film is supposed to be a means of escape, fantasy, truth, etc…. and we ALL want to see someone we can relate to on screen, if humans are the main subject of interest. We just need a fair representation of black and ethnic minority actors, whatever their nationality in the mainstream film industry, and they are out there! I’m not saying that every fictional film should have a majority black cast but a least include us, so that films are a true representation of the current racial mix.
Put ME in the story – Viola Davis Best Actress acceptance speech at the SAG awards 2015
I was surprised at the backlash British actor John Boyega received after announcement that he was being cast as a lead character, in the new Star Wars film – The Force Awakens (especially as Samuel L. Jackson was part of the franchise). Some fans didn’t think Boyega was appropriate for the role, with comments on You Tube including:
“Dear Black People, We are forced to include you into everything awesome we do.”
Another comment suggesting the film “didn’t need some black Jedi”.
To which the actor responded “To Whom It May Concern, get used it.”
British comedian Lenny Henry has been vocal about the lack of ethnic minorities in British television and last year along with others including Idris Elba, asked TV executives to improve their representation of ethnic minorities on British TV. Stating his concern of the “paucity” of black talent in British “high-end drama and comedy”, Henry compared British TV to the US, which has highly successful shows such as Scandal (the best show on TV at the moment – I love me some Papa Pope!), Grey’s Anatomy and How to Get Away with Murder. The issue isn’t just with the paucity of ethnic minorities on the screen but also production staff behind the scenes; spotting a brown face is still like looking for a chocolate chip in a bag of flour.
Of course some people aren’t sympathetic to the plight of ethnic minority representation in mainstream television and don’t think it’s a big deal. In response to Lenny Henry’s calls for equality a counsellor from the so-called political party UKIP stated:
“I think if black people come to this country and don’t like mixing with white people why are they here? If he (Henry) wants a lot of blacks around go and live in a black country.”
There are many who would agree with this; but Henry doesn’t want black only institutions, only a level playing field. Mixed-race people are becoming the fast growing ethnic minority group in the UK, so I don’t think black people have a problem with ‘mixing with white people’ either.
Selma didn’t go home completely empty handed on Oscar night, Common and John Legend won the Oscar for Best Original Song, apparently making it the 32nd time out of over 2,900 winners in the past 87 years that a black person has won a competitive Oscar. Their performance brought some in the audience to tears and earned a standing ovation.
Glory – “The struggle for justice is right now.”
So what happens now?
That’s up to the Academy Award board of which, apparently 94% are white and 3% black, including the president elected in 2013, Cheryl Boone Isaacs, the first African-American to hold the position.
It remains to be seen how quickly change will come, maybe it’s up to ethnic minorities to create their own mainstream, which won’t be easy as it never is when you enter the race late. There are movements in this area, Tyler Perry has built a profitable empire giving black talent opportunities to shine, there was the romantic comedy ‘Think Like a Man’ that did well in the US and Europe and I can’t wait for Lupita Nyong’o to star in AND produce Americanah, an adaptation of the award winning novel by Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.
So watch this (white) space…or just accept that Hollywood; a district, in one city, in one country has all the power in film and really is just as white as it looks.