Why it shouldn't be all white on the night
Brit-flick SoulBoy has black music but a white cast. That's a poor reflection of our multi-cultural country, says Paul McKenzie
Monday 11 October 2010
It started while watching the trailer for the latest hip Brit-flick, SoulBoy.
A boy-meets-girl love story, set in the North of England in the 1980s. A delicious soundtrack of sweet black soul music is played as the young white Romeo and Juliet fall for each other. The only black people in the trailer were dancing. You see, that's what we do. We dance. We don't get the girl and partake in witty dialogue and get all angst when she rejects us. We stay in the background and dance. Our music, yes. Our emotion, no.
It gets worse. The avid sports fan that I am, means that I watch sports on all channels across the board. And here's the thing that kills me, 99 per cent of all the British produced sports programmes I watch, starting from Sky Sports' Soccer AM through to BBC's Match of the Day right up to ITV Champions League coverage and every British-produced sports show on ESPN is led by white presenters. I can only think of two sports shows that feature a black presenter and they are very much niche shows with low viewing figures. When you consider the number of black players on the football pitch or running track or cricket field, the imbalance in the world of sport presenting is nothing short of disgraceful.
Scanning the papers I am greeted with the team publicity picture for Daybreak. The great white hope for morning TV, is literally that. Please, spare a minute and look at all its presenters on its website. There's Adrian and Christine smiling like cats that have lucked in on £10m cream. Among the team of 12 presenters and reporters there's an Asian presenter but no one of African-Caribbean origin, not a one. Let's think about that. As they concluded the selection process a number of senior TV executives have looked at the final line-up and said to themselves: "There's nothing wrong with this picture. When the sun rises and day breaks this is what Britain 2010 looks like."
Staying with over-hyped, popular shows, take a quick look at the big names on Big Brother, Loose Women and the host of game shows and you'll witness the same sad fact. The lead hosts, the ones trusted by the channel and the producers to make the nation feel fuzzy and warm, are all without exception white.
It's nearly 10 years since the BBC's then Director-General, Greg Dyke, made his infamous statement: "The BBC is hideously white." Since then, the worlds of television and cinema have become less representative, not more. This at a time when the leader of the free world is black.
I'm hurting and I'm angry. And here's the thing. I'm not alone. The hurt and anger I feel is shared by many black actors and writers. They used to whisper, "unless it's children's TV, the soaps or playing the part of a drug dealer in a 'gritty' drama, we get no love". They no longer whisper. Anger has got the better of them. Many have gone. To the US and beyond. They've seen Idris Elba, Marianne Jean-Baptiste realising their potential and thought to themselves "why not?" Others have simply turned their backs on TV and cinema and changed careers.
Sooner rather than later, white cinema and television, two of the most powerful mediums we have in this country are going to have to 'get it'. It's going to have to realise that Britain has to give its dues to the black contribution made to youth cultures past and present; that its window on Britain has to reflect a country that is increasingly multi-cultural.
Sometime ago, across the Atlantic, large sections of the US film and television industry got over of its fear of a black planet, it's about time we did the same over here.
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