The Great Escape

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Over the past few years, there have been major developments in the TV, Film and Theatre industries. The Artist is a perfect example of how audiences are willing to except and embrace change.   Michel Hazanavicius created a film which explored the concept of Silent Movies. He originally approached a number of film producers to back him, most of them thought the idea was ridiculous. Having received a number of awards including BAFTAs and Golden Globes for his innovative film…..guess who’s laughing now!

The changes in the Film and TV industries seem to be happening on a global spectrum, with America at the forefront of the wave of change. However the UK is still lacking, still failing to take a risk and create productions which express the cultural, social and political changes of a country which is seen to be multi-cultural.

One area which America is constantly out doing the UK is their take on multi-ethnic casting. America must truly be the land of opportunities for Actors, as many UK actors are jumping ship and swimming, fast, to the shores of America…..in particular black actors.

Last week David Harewood spoke of how the UK is neglecting black actors;

Unfortunately there really aren’t that many roles for authoritative, strong, black characters in this country. We just don’t write those characters, that’s a fact,” he said. “I don’t want to trash this place, but I do think there is a certain lack of ambition in terms of telling a global story.”


The question is………..Is David Harewood right?

Well, as a young black actor I have continued to remain enthusiastic, ambitious and determined to make a change in some way to British TV, Film and Theatre. Whilst in Drama school, I was disappointed with the lack of loyalty that black female actors such as, Marianne Jean Baptiste had to the UK.  However after a number of years of working as an actor I have realized that there are only a handful of roles which in the eyes of the UK industry are acceptable to be played by black women. (I won’t go in detail now, but the next time you watch British TV, observe how many black women you see in dramas, that aren’t African/Caribbean or estate/urban related dramas.) I am now beginning to understand why great black British female actors such as Marie Jean-Baptise left the UK.  

Whilst casting directors continue to do their best when it comes to casting more non-white actors, the fact of the matter is, many black actors, particularly black female actors are frustrated and disappointed with the UK. It is brilliant that Britain……or shall I say London, is a multi-cultural hub and this is being reflected on our screens. I have noticed a rise of black males and mixed race/ bi-racial people on our screens, which is fantastic!  However by casting a mixed race woman in a black female role this does not rectify the situation, but draws attention to the fact that yet again black women are falling by the wayside.

The fact that many black male actors such as:

David Harewood

Lenny James,

David Oyelowo,

Chiwetel Ejiofor

Adrian Leicester

(to name a few)

Have left/leaving the UK to pursue more prosperous career rewarding opportunities in America, makes me a little worried. I mean the actors mentioned above are reputable British actors within their own right, and the fact they believe that there is not enough opportunities in the UK for black actors, makes me think, about actors such as:

Nikki Amuku – Bird,

Sharon Ducan Brewster

 Josette Simon

Caroline Chikezie.

How do you think these females feel?

The fact that the male actors above have had many opportunities in relation to their female counterparts, and they still want to get out of the UK….is there any hope for young female black British actors?

YES!

Yes there is. Okay things are not brilliant for black actors in the UK and there is still a long way to go, but just think back to the early 70’s productions such as Love thy Neighbour and Till Death us do part, just think of how far British drama has developed since then with thanks to the black actors who carved their career through the rough times of the 50’s, 60’s, 70’s and 80’s. If they did not voice their injustice, many productions which feature black performers may not exist today! So, there needs to be a focus and a belief that things can change for black actors, particularly black female actors. This will not happen if all black actors leave the UK never to return.

But maybe a black actor needs to leave the UK for America and return once America has validated their talent? Only then will the UK take notice and perhaps utilize the talent that was always there, look at Idris Elba!

But is the grass really green on the other side?  Is America the best place for black actors? (I am just playing devil’s advocate here.)

America has such a large TV and film industry with hundreds of channels that provide a range of dramas for all types of people. But when watch dramas such as Friends, How I met your mother, Sex and the City, Gossip Girl  which are set in the buzzing diverse centre of the States – New York, regardless of this fact  all the main characters in these productions are white, middle/upper class individuals.  On the other hand you had the award winning drama 24 which had Dennis Haysbert as President David Palmer (pre Obama times) and the focus was on the drama and not on the fact that he was black. Of course this is not the first time this has happened on American screen; 2012 – Danny Glover as President Thomas Wilson, Fifth Element – Tommy Lister as President Lindberg etc. Will there ever be the day when there is a black Prime Minister in a UK drama?

 The problem in regards to UK casting may stem from the fact that the UK reeks of tradition, the stiff upper lip. So when anything jeopardises the tradition set by the old school boy network, all hell will break loose! Whereas America is a land of immigrants and has developed its own tradition on this basis, so I suppos there is more freedom for taking risks,  of casting a black man as an American President (pre Obama times.)

It seems that black men have managed to conquer the film and TV industries but what is the fate of black female actors in the UK and is it worth it going to the states? Is the grass greener on the other side?

 Well I leave you with a few words from award winning actor Viola Davis;

“You can be in the business for 23 years, which I have been, and suddenly something happens that wakes people up. For me, that was being in a movie with Meryl Streep, Amy Adams and Philip Seymour Hoffman. It makes people realize you’re there. Otherwise you’re that black girl who had a guest or co star role in a TV show here or there.”


“That really is our plight especially as women, of color. You can have all the training in the world, come from a respectable background and yet never get that big opportunity that breaks you out—never.”

“I am doing this out of necessity. If I am not the instrument of change, I can meander through this business and be the black woman who always has two or three scenes but with fabulous actors around me.”

 “Even back when I was 11, I knew that Isabel Sanford from The Jeffersons came from the stage. I never watched the Oscars, but I watched the Tonys every year. I wanted to be on stage. I wanted to be like Colleen Dewhurst or Jane Alexander—one of those great ladies of the theater, doing Ibsen and Shakespeare.”


“There are great characters in history whose stories need to be told, but also, look at this year’s line-up: Melancholia,Young Adult…Someone just had imagination, put pen to paper and created a [whole] human being. That is what I hope for myself…for a number of black actresses.”

“I’m hoping there are enough people out there who will have my back.”

Viola Davis – LA Times

http://www.latimesmagazine.com/2012/02/viola.html

 

You know what they say; ‘You’ll never know if the grass is greener on the other side, unless you  go and look at the lawn.’ I suppose I best go look at that lawn!

I am not a writer, just a blabber,  a girl that asks many questions but never knows how to collate the answers. Just a normal girl with nothing more to say, than words that mean nothing but say something.

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