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 HarwoodBBC’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.

Aktobi writes:

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?

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  • Kebbo

    This article made me this of “The Black acting School” in the movie Hollywood Shuffle http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xKX4LktBI5o&feature=youtube_gdata_player If you’re in the business…do side projects you want to see and promote it online?

    • Kebbo

      ..made me think… (correction)

  • dawn lord

    I known i am preaching to the choir, however If we do not support our own films and shows the world will not take us seriously. Buy directly from the black directors and producers stop watching their shows go on the net, alot of black folks are working on film and net projects. if half of us did that for a year the industry would change we are over 13 percent of the population that is a 13 percent pay cut to any industry that marginalizes us. in Nigeria poor film makers are making films and people are watching it. Spike Lee made his career on films with black central characters so did Tyler Perry. we in the western world continue to seek approval from people who do not respect us. Stop supporting hollywood and they will start respecting us.

  • Dsledge

    Unfortunately, Black Britons are at least 30 years behind African Americans. Catch Up.

  • goldenboy62

    Idris would have to be considered an exception to the rule. Black actors across the pond are generally lamenting the lack of diversity in the roles written and the roles available. Though we’re past the “hood” n’erdowell roles, now it’s all silly comedies and Tyler Perry films.

  • Wayne Khan

    I’m a British born middle class Pakistani actor and the roles that i am offered are very stereotyped bordering on offensive. I have been told to act more ‘ghetto’ more ‘asian’ more like a ‘thug’ etc.
    Why can they not just have an Asian vet or engineer etc. I know plenty!
    It’s really humiliating when they only ask you to play terrorists, drug dealers, illegal immigrants and so forth.
    I have been turned down for roles because i wasn’t ‘Asian’ enough and sounded too British! erm hello, i was born here and not in Pakistan or India.