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Academics aim to bring black history to the big screen

FOUR HISTORIANS, ONE VISION: (left to right): Michael Ohajuru, Maria del Pilar Kaladeen, Eva Namusoke, Sumita Mukherjee

FOUR ACADEMICS have joined forces to create an innovative project to show how stories in black and Asian history can form the basis of blockbuster movies.

Michael Ohajuru, Sumita Mukherjee, Eva Namusoke and Maria del Pilar Kaladeen from the Institute of Commonwealth Studies (ICWS) and the University of Bristol, have created the ‘Archive to blockbuster four’ (A2BFour) evening which will take place on Monday November 21.

During the evening, the four historians will pitch four ideas for films based on stories they have uncovered during the course of their academic research.

After their pitches, which will last for seven minutes, they will then take questions from the audience and feedback from a panel of four film industry experts who will include actor and writer Vera Chok, screenwriter and author and screenwriter Farrukh Dhondy, academic and convenor of the BFI’s Black Star season Althea Legal-Miller and historian and screenwriter Mike Phillips.

One of the team, Maria del Pilar Kaladeen told The Voice that the inspiration behind the event was the online #OscarsSoWhite campaign which took protest at the lack of diversity in this year’s in the Oscar nominations and a desire to demonstrate that the seeds of exciting cinema can be found in the archives history of black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) groups.

She said: “We were fuelled by hidden histories of the British Empire and stories that have just not been given the attention that they deserve. We are all really passionate about the fact that people often have perceptions about the black presence in Britain as one that is connected to slavery and we felt it was really important that we show that there are incredible stories in the archives that involve black and minority ethnic people. Hollywood and the film industry is generally not engaging with these stories not just to the detriment of the film industry, which could have been very exciting, but to the detriment of people of colour. It is a denial of our history.”

Kaladeen continued: “I, for example, am Indo Caribbean and on a weekly basis I find myself explaining the system of indenture to people who have no idea that there are Indian people in the Caribbean or that they were part of a system that effectively replaced slavery in the Caribbean and in Fiji, Mauritius and South Africa as well.”

During the event, Kaladeen’s film pitch will take the audience through the dynamic final decades Guyana’s system of indenture. Michael Ohajuru will present a pitch based on the life of John Blanke, a black trumpeter at the courts of Henry VII and Henry VIII. Sumita Mukherjee will present her work on the life of the activist and poet Sarojini Naidu, often referred to as the ‘Nightingale of India’. Eva Namusoke’s pitch for ‘Songs on Namirembe Hill’ tells the dramatic story of the last week in the life of Ugandan Archbishop Janani Luwum.

Kaladeen said: “My interest in the project is that, as an academic, I’ve always been interested in the idea of public engagement, especially as someone who didn’t come to academia through the traditional route. One of the things that is a big topic of discussion among academics at the moment is how do we take our research outside the academic world?

"And that started me off looking at ideas about how to represent the story of indenture in a way that is interesting and appealing. I thought there must be other historians who must feel the same way.”

After discussions between Kaladeen and the other three historians in the project, Archive to Blockbuster four was born.

“We aim to uncover the brilliant characters and plots found in our research, bring diversity to the ‘big screen’ and redress the imbalance and ignorance in the portrayal of BAME characters in the film industry” she said.

Archive to Blockbuster Four will take place on Monday November 21 at Senate House, Malet Street, London WC1E, 7HU. To book a ticket please visit:

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