Research by the British Film Industry looked at over 1,000 UK films in the past decade to research the representation of black actors. They found that the amount of films with black actors had (unfortunately) stayed relatively the same. Discrimination at the top of the industry is an open secret – from the same study, 59% of UK films produced in the last 10 years contained zero black actors in lead or named roles. David Oyelowo, star of Selma (2014), recently said that he had moved to L.A. due to the lack of opportunity in the UK.
Many believe that discrimination should be tackled in the classroom and that education is the route towards inclusivity. This way, the decision makers of tomorrow are aware of the issue and are in a position to change it. When the problem is this clear (BFI also found that only four black actors are listed in the UK’s 100 most prolific actors) the industry needs people working at every level to battle against it.
BFI creative director Heather Stewart said: “The number of lead roles for black actors has not really changed over 10 years and the types of films in which they have had leading roles suggests stereotyping.” She added that “Diversity is one of the biggest issues facing film – audiences want to see the world in which we live reflected back at them.”
Luckily for us we still have the indie film scene, which began tackling all forms of discrimination decades ago. Campbell X, a powerhouse of British queer cinema, said: “Films that show black people as complex, layered and authentic are being made right now by indie filmmakers who are black. Just because they are not on mainstream TV or cinemas doesn’t mean they do not exist!”
When media events like the “whitewashed” Oscars are on the news, this can be a great time to bring up the topic of discrimination in British classrooms. Younger generations have always been more progressive, and the opportunity to explore this sensitive subject in a safe environment can guide young minds towards thinking that discrimination is a real issue – one that has often had to be battled by creativity alone.
Pointing to the watershed moments in film history can be a way to avoid the doom and gloom of current-day politics. There is a lot to be learnt from milestones such as the first interracial kiss on television (Star Trek: The Original Series – Plato’s Stepchildren. 1968) all the way up to Laverne Cox’s breakout success as a transwoman of colour in Orange Is the New Black (2013).
However you choose to interpret the misgivings about the British film industry and its treatment of people of colour, know that the future is bright. Never before has there been such awareness of social issues or high levels of investment into discrimination-aware cinema. If you have any doubts about our collective future see: The Butler (2013) and the who’s who of black entrepreneurs who rallied behind it, or the revolutionary movement of Black Lives Matter.