|An Even Spread||19th February 2013|
This certainly is not the celebrity channel but I caught an interview with David Oyelowo on Front Row the other day (13.Feb) and my ears pricked up.|
We’d like to say we spend our time open to challenge from all avenues, in fact it’s probably more likely that we go around loading a basket with ideas, thoughts and views that mirror those – for some reason - we already harbour. So my ‘like that’ sensor came on and I started to actually listen to what the 36 year old British actor had to say.
He has moved to Los Angeles, apparently in order to take advantage of the abundance of roles that exist for black actors in America, as opposed to in Britain.
He acknowledges that great strides are being made in British film and television (‘Small Island’, ‘Dancing on the Edge’, and his leading role in ‘Complicit’, for example) but seems to have reached the conclusion that the occasional role and less occasional drama (lead role) does not provide sufficient flow off which to base a career.
What was particularly interesting was the connection he made between the lack of roles / drama for people of colour in the UK and a near-term understanding of black British history.
He describes it as a lack of acknowledgement of just how much a part of British life black people are.
A lot of stake is placed in the Windrush period (1950s, setting for Small Island novel and drama) but black people were here before Windrush, Oyelowo reminds, here in Jane Austin’s times (1800), here before slavery (pre-1700).
Stepping back in history always prompts me to recall ‘The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano’ (1745 – 1797). As portrayed in his autobiography, Olaudah was clearly an exceptional individual, though, as is often the case, the lives of ordinary people feature little in recorded history and this leaves scarce material to go on.
I’ve always thought you need a heritage of material (individuals – writers, agents, publishers, actors, producers, directors -, acts, arts, institutions, events) in order to create a sense of heritage and culture that resonates loudly. Britain’s film and television industry may never be able to compete with that of the States (volume and scale) but the representation of people of colour in Britain is spreading more evenly across British society.