Black actors leave Britain to escape 'lazy stereotypes', says Chuka Umunna

The Labour MP says actors are heading for Hollywood as a result of a lack of compelling roles in the UK

The Labour politician Chuka Umunna has called on Britain's film and television industries to end the ethnic stereotyping which has forced Britain's leading black actors to quit the UK for Hollywood to pursue their careers.

Delivering a speech on social mobility, the Shadow Business Secretary echoed complaints by David Harewood, the Birmingham-born actor who starred in the hit US series Homeland, who said there were no strong roles for black actors in Britain.

Mr Umunna said there was a lack of visible black role models to inspire young people. "One of the reasons is because our broadcast and film media have a tendency to stereotype black people: to present an image of black British people that suggests we can succeed in sport, entertainment and music, but not necessarily in other fields."

He asked: "If I am wrong about this, then why do so many black British actors have to leave the UK for the US to get decent film and television roles that fall outside the stereotypes? Too many in the British film and television industries simply don't cast black British actors in certain roles that fall outside those stereotypes."

"It's often only after they've made it big in the States that black British actors get more – and more varied – roles here. That is unacceptable and has got to change. As a society, we cannot allow people to default to lazy stereotypes."

Mr Umunna, a former lawyer tipped to become Labour's first black leader, reflected concerns raised by Britain's leading black screen stars. Harewood, who played CIA director Estes in Homeland, claimed that "there really aren't that many roles for authoritative, strong, black characters in this country."

He said: "With the types of dramas that we do, it's going to take a while for people to start casting strong black lead roles. It's why that whole generation of strong black lead actors left the country."

David Oyelowo, the Spooks actor who left for Hollywood, where he won a leading role in Rise of the Planet of the Apes, said: "Up until now, the British film industry has said: 'There isn't an audience for black films. We don't have the actors.'"

A recent Creative Skillset Employment Census revealed a decline in the number of people from ethnic minority backgrounds working in the creative industries.

The film industry saw BAME (black, Asian and minority ethnic people) representation decline in all three sub-sectors of production, distribution and exhibition between 2009-12. BAME representation in film production dropped from 12 per cent in 2009 to 5.3 per cent in 2012.

David Harewood says there are greater opportunities for black actors in the US David Harewood says there are greater opportunities for black actors in the US However Ashley Walters, the star of Channel 4's urban drama Top Boy, criticised black British actors who complain about the lack of opportunities in the UK. He said they should "stay here and try to change things" by writing and producing their own films, rather than "run away to the States".

British actors who have won aspirational roles in the UK include Sophie Okonedo, cast as a barrister opposite David Tennant in the new BBC1 series The Escape Artist.

Mr Umunna said black Britons should celebrate the success of music stars Emile Sande and Tinie Tempah, the author Zadie Smith and Olympic champions including Mo Farah and Jessica Ennis.

But he asked: "If young black people can't see people who look like them editing our newspapers, sitting on the Supreme Court or running our great British companies, how can we give them the hope that if they work hard, they can make it too?"

Citing the Government's recent Social Mobility & Child Poverty Commission report, Umunna said: "Britain remains a deeply divided society and economic disadvantage still strongly shapes life's opportunities. They say there's a real danger that social mobility could go into reverse in the first part of this century if we don’t act."

Labour's goal would be to create a society where "the budding Richard Bransons and (Sudanese-British telecoms billionaire) Mo Ibrahims growing up on the Tulse Hill Estate, in one of the most deprived wards in my constituency, can turn their ideas into thriving businesses and make their first million."

This week Sharon White became the first woman – and the first black person – to be appointed as a permanent secretary to the Treasury. Ms White, who first worked at the Treasury in the 90s, has been made second permanent secretary tasked with responsibility for managing Britain’s public finances.

Arts and Entertainment
'Silent Night' last topped Classic FM's favourite Christmas carol poll in 2002
classical
Arts and Entertainment
Caroline Flack became the tenth winner of Strictly Come Dancing
tvReview: 'Absolutely phenomenal' Xtra Factor presenter wins Strictly Come Dancing final
Arts and Entertainment
J Jefferson Farjeon at home in 1953
booksBooksellers say readers are turning away from modern thrillers and back to golden age of crime writing
Arts and Entertainment
Female fans want more explicit male sex in Game of Thrones, George R R Martin says

film George RR Martin owns a cinema in Santa Fe

Arts and Entertainment
Clued up: John Lynch and Gillian Anderson in ‘The Fall’

TV review

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Rhys says: 'I'm not playing it for laughs, but I have learnt that if you fall over on stage, people can enjoy that as much as an amazing guitar solo'
musicGruff Rhys on his rock odyssey, and the trouble with independence
Arts and Entertainment
Krysia and Daniel (Hand out press photograph provided by Sally Richardson)
How do today's composers answer the challenge of the classical giant?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
News
Shenaz Treasurywala
film
News
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Watkins as Christopher Jefferies
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars Director JJ Abrams: key character's names have been revealed
film
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams won two BBC Music Awards for Best Song and International Artist
music
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump

TV

Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

film
Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

TV
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

    Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
    Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

    Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

    Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
    Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

    Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
    Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

    Autism-friendly theatre

    Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

    Panto dames: before and after

    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

    Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
    The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

    The man who hunts giants

    A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
    The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

    The 12 ways of Christmas

    We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
    Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

    The male exhibits strange behaviour

    A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
    Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

    Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

    Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
    From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

    From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

    The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
    A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

    A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

    The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'