Noel Clarke: I'm influential? You're kidding...

Last week we said Noel Clarke was one of the most important figures in UK cinema. Here's his response
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The Independent Culture

So there I was in my local supermarket doing a morning shop, half of it the usual stuff, and half of it the new experience of buying the right sized nappies for my six-week-old little man (he's on size two now).

I walked over to the newspaper section, and what did I see? The Independent with one of those lists that I always like to look at, and for many years wished one day I would be a part of: "20 people who really matter in British film". I got home, read some of the paper and then settled down to open the magazine, which had an even more exciting headline: "The 20 most influential people in British film". "We'll see about that," I thought, opened the cover and there I was.

To say I was surprised was an understatement. I had no idea this was coming, and neither did anyone else. It wasn't a clever PR exercise. I don't know anyone at the paper. I was just there, full-colour picture, first page. It was a surreal moment. And then the calls started coming in...

I honestly don't think that, when I was young, there were many people to look up to as a young black boy. There weren't very many black people on TV or in film in this country.

Watch the Adulthood trailer

I can vaguely remember Don Warrington and Eamonn Walker, but I don't remember anything really making me feel like I should watch it. I later realised that I had felt I wasn't represented much. My mum watched Auf Wiedersehen, Pet, about working-class men, but my dad wasn't around so I still couldn't really get it.

Consequently, as I was growing up, most of my influences came from America in the form of shows that had black characters, or sci-fi, where there were no rules – The Cosby Show, that bald-headed guy on Sesame Street, The A-Team, Knight Rider (the car was black!), Star Trek: The Next Generation and The Fresh Prince Of Bel Air.

As I got older and got really into film we saw things like Boyz *The Hood (directed by John Singleton), Do The Right Thing (Spike Lee), Eddie Murphy films and, later, films that represented my age – Pulp Fiction (Quentin Tarantino) Clerks (Kevin Smith) and Kids (Larry Clark). There were more but for me these stood out.

These films and the aforementioned directors, Smith, Lee, Tarantino and Clark were instrumental in inspiring me for various reasons. Lee, obviously, was writing films that a black audience wanted to see, and Tarantino was giving every fan-boy nerd a reason to go out and buy a black suit. His writing is unconventional and breaks the rules of structure, which I love.

Smith (arguably my favourite) and Clark were making films, albeit at the different ends of the spectrum, that young people could really relate too. Still, I wasn't seeing anything that grabbed me coming out of the UK; there were great films but nothing that was about me.

The list that came out last Friday was, indeed, a list of power-players, a lot of whom I do consider to be some of the most influential: Tim Bevan and Eric Fellner from Working Title, Jane Tranter at BBC Films (who I know quite well from my time playing Mickey Smith in Doctor Who), Simon Pegg and Gurinder Chadha.

There are some amazing people on this list, but there are a host of other up-and-coming and established people who maybe should have been there: Paul Andrew Williams (the director of London to Brighton), Mark Tonderai (the 33-year old actor-turned-director whose debut feature, Hush, is released in November), DNA Films (the production company behind such British hits as Notes on a Scandal and The Last King of Scotland) and Sally Caplan and Lenny Crooks from the UK Film Council.

As honoured as I was, I had to wonder who made the decision to put me there and why. This is what I've always wanted, what I've worked for. I never really knew what effect these lists had, but I'd seen them many times and had always thought two things. Firstly, who is on there that I can relate to? Secondly, one day I want to be on one.

I haven't asked whose decision it was to put me in last Friday's list and as I'm writing this I'm trying to think of how it has happened. I can only think it's because I've managed to do the one thing that I wished someone had done for me when I was growing up, the same thing the films I mentioned above did to me. I reached out and grabbed my audience.

It's not rocket science. It's not that my films are extra special. It's not that my films are just for a youth audience. Believe me, if it was just urban youth (a lot of whom would rather download) watching them, they wouldn't have done well. Some would even argue that they are not for any audience. What they are, though, is undeniably British.

Watch the Kidulthood trailer

And, as much as people like genre, period dramas, and huge American blockbusters that suck our money away, people also want to see films about themselves and the places they live in now.

So that is what I did with the first two films. Made at a cost of £1.1m, Adulthood has currently grossed £2.8m and counting. More importantly, it became a film that the core audience wanted to see, and I don't think we do enough of that in this country.

So now some people are calling me the voice of urban youth or the new voice for black film-makers. Firstly, I would like to say that I'm a film-maker. The colour of my skin should have no bearing on the jobs I do and/or the films I make in the long scheme of things. I won't be limited by anything as long as I'm allowed to grow.

As for being the voice of youth, I'm getting older and the youth grow up into adulthood. But I want to grow with them and take both them and British film into new, brave and exciting directions. If one film I do inspires someone to try to do it as well, I will feel like I have accomplished something.