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Are black actors fleeing the UK? Part two

POWER: Director and actor Noel Clarke at the BAFTA after party this past weekend

TO READ part one, click here.

During her transition into her acting career, Buachie still experienced what she described as “institutionalised racism” when she enrolled in drama school:

“I was one of two black students in the entire class and at the end of it, my teacher said I had ‘come a long way’ but she didn’t understand why black people ‘lacked articulation’ and I was shocked.”

On the subject of BAME casting calls, Buachie believes they are publicity stunts:

“The same person who told me to sound more ‘street’ to be black is probably the same person who will be applying for Arts Council funding because she’s managed to secure one black and one Asian person in her production,” she says.

After relocating to the United States, Buachie also sees BAME casting calls as sometimes politically motivated:

“There will be talks of diversity when a story about police brutality emerges because they don’t want to lose their black viewers.”

REPRESENTING: Idris Elba at the Evening Standard's British Film Awards last year

Solomon Taiwo Justified, who has been acting for the past nine years, believes that solving the issue is about your mindset:

“It seems like people are letting me in and I would say it’s down to your mentality – maybe there is a diversity issue but if you keep repeating it, you are giving the other person the upper hand.”

Solomon got introduced to acting when he met Noel Clarke who is described by the BFI as the most ‘prolific black actor in UK film’. Justified had a minor role in the final film of the Hood trilogy that Noel Clarke directed, which is an exploration into British gang culture.

In the UK, there are several diversity strategies that seek to break the mould of ethnic diversity in film: Black Star is a current scheme run by the BFI to promote and celebrate black talent. The National Theatre is currently running a Diversity and Inclusion Strategy and one of the aims is to ensure that by 2021, at least a quarter of actors on stage are of colour.

The National Theatre was asked to reveal figures on how many black actors were present in plays over the last 10 years. A spokesperson commented:

“Diversity in all its forms is at the heart of the National Theatre’s vision and integral to its success.

"Our diversity and inclusion strategy says that each year at least 25% of performers on our stages will be people of colour. Last year this figure was 31%. More information about our ongoing diversity work can be found on our website and in our annual review.”

The theatre was previously accused of not promoting diversity, as well running a racist play in 2009 entitled England People Very Nice, written by Richard Bean.

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Playwright Hussain Ismail described the play as “prejudiced and crass” in the way it represented migrants:

“The Irish are all incestuous alcoholics whilst the Bangladeshi Muslims are either muggers or jihadis.”

Buachie also believes that the stereotypical representation of people of colour in film is an issue that we cannot simply skim over in a bid to promote equality and diversity:

“There are too many stories about the plight of a black slave or an Indian girl’s arranged marriage – I want to see stories about a second-generation migrant’s experience.”

Despite having found success in the United States, Buachie believes that minority groups are still treated as second-class citizens there:

“I’d never raise my kids here; I have opportunities but it breaks my heart being away from London.”

Ongoing diversity strategies in London are perhaps glimmers of hope that show initiative is being taken on a wide scale to address the issue of black actors being underrepresented in the film industry.

As one of the most multicultural cities in the world and the unyielding heartbeat of the UK film industry; it would be a shame to imagine that we weren’t uncovering our full collective potential as Brits.

To read part one, click here.

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