This week I found the subjects of a black boycott of the Oscars and UK black actors furthering their careers overseas quite interesting. Fundamentally, the Oscars are meant to celebrate high quality filmmaking, irrespective of ethnicity. Historically, Hollywood has had a problem representing people who aren’t white Americans or European. Moreover, one questions how the Academy celebrates the achievements of actors, producers and directors presenting a more positive, diverse and progressive perspective of filmmaking. I understand a significant and growing percentage of filmgoers in America are from minority groups so there should be some reflection of this on screen and in what the Academy considers award worthy. It has a responsibility to be more reflective and less bias towards its telling of history, its summary of the present and its vision of the future, which half the time paints a very bleak if not non existent picture for those of a darker hue. The Academy’s issues come as no surprise when the decision makers are predominantly white middle aged men, disengaged with a wider society.
White middle aged men, responsible for this kind of gatekeeping, equally suppress black expression and representation in UK arts. They remain gatekeepers in how particularly the western world sees itself and more importantly what it values. This isn’t a new phenomenon because, for a number of years, creative professionals from minority groups, including musicians, performing artists, writers and painters have looked abroad for a beacon of hope and opportunity, to master their talents and feed their aspirations. As a London born artist, I have found some solace in New York, knowing there is a greater degree of support, comradery amongst peers and opportunity to work in chosen fields, with less emphasis on colour. That’s not to say things are completely flawless however. So what is the problem with the UK? Surely there must be a limit on how many period dramas are made and writing negative stereotypical or token roles into depressing soaps operas like EastEnders are by no means the solution.
Whilst this gatekeeping issue is a challenge and we identify culprits responsible for its maintenance, we must also hold ourselves responsible for implementing change, either through boycotting industries or being more vocal and visible in our demand for it.
I have tremendous respect and admiration for David Oyelowo, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Marianne Jean-Baptiste, Idris Elba and others for their success so far. They provide encouragement and hope, despite the odds, to persevere with international careers. I’m equally glad such talented people are realising they must seek opportunities wherever doors are open. Perhaps the grass is greener on the other side? I’m interested to hear others views on this matter.