Just yesterday I asked one of my British friends, Gabrielle of (dope!) blog I Am the Nu Black, if they were a decade behind us in terms of their penchant for shows and films depicting urban life. Although I’m a fan of the show Top Boy, after watching a trailer for the upcoming film Illegal Activity and seeing several urban films depicting life in London’s council estates (projects) like Bullet Boy, I wondered if the Brits were starting to get a little obsessed with hood films.
So, imagine my surprise this morning as I was getting my daily Shadow & Act fix and read an article about Black British actors not being “ghetto enough” for primetime TV.
Last month, Kate Harwood, BBC’s Controller of Drama Series and Serials, talked to the Telegraph about the lack of diversity on British TV. Although she contends that there are more black actors and presenters (show hosts) than ever, she told the Telegraph “she has heard criticism that many of the black actors who come to auditions are ‘posh Africans’ and not representative of all social classes.”
Although she said that social class shouldn’t be a factor in casting, and all that matters is if the actors are “good” and “convincing,” the message is clear: many black actors aren’t stereotypically “black enough” for British TV.
And as Emmanuel Akitobi of Shadow & Act points out, this has led many Black British actors to head abroad in order to make it in the business.
What Harwood shared only confirms what many black actors have been complaining about for years– that despite significant gains for a small few over the years, generally, black actors in the UK have been relegated to portraying “undesirables”, just for a chance at any recognition at all.
It’s almost like the black actor is invisible, unless he’s playing the low-life, or the slacker. Golden Globe-winning actor Idris Elba had to come to America to play a murderous, drug-dealing business-man in HBO’s The Wire, before the BBC invited him to come home and play the titular role of a troubled, near-genius detective in Luther, for which he received the aforementioned award. On the contrary, actor David Harewood’s incredible performance as a prominent and influential senior-member of the CIA, on the Golden Globe-winning Showtime drama Homeland, didn’t even make it into the conversation when BBC Radio 4 program frontrow reviewed the show last month.
Harewood has publicly advised black actors in his homeland to seek work elsewhere, or remain a struggling actor in the UK.
Britain’s growing diversity seems to be at the root of the issue. Although the UK is overwhelmingly white (85%), non-whites make up growing demographic in London (over 30%) and Leicester (over 37%), and interactions between Britain’s white residents and their increasingly colorful neighbors seems to be a source of tension.
Despite major strides, black actors on both sides of the Pond encounter prejudice when attempting work in their chosen field, which further emphasizes the need to not only have more black actors on screen, but black writers, directors and producers behind the scenes.
What do you think? UK Clutchettes, weigh-in on this. Are black Brits typecast on TV?