In the very last reel, the 'Black Baftas' are saved by the BBC and Film Council
Black British actors who believe their talent is overlooked prepare to stage their own awards ceremony
Sunday 01 February 2009
They are young, gifted and black. You may recognise some of them from the stage and screen, but if you watch the Bafta awards next Sunday night you're unlikely to see many of them on the stage, clutching one of the famous golden masks.
Fans of Noel Clarke, the young black writer and star of Kidulthood and Adulthood, have been working desperately to try to garner enough votes to see him take the Orange Rising Star award. Bitterly, they point out he would be the first black British actor to win one of the awards.
So, next Saturday, 24 hours before what is feared will be another excruciating speech by Kate Winslet, Clarke and his peers will get together in central London to celebrate their own Screen Nation Film and Television Awards, otherwise known as the "Black Baftas". To drive home the point, its organisers have booked the Bafta headquarters in London to make the presentations.
Hosted by TV presenter Josie D'Arby, the event will celebrate stars including Whoopi Goldberg and Don Warrington. Lennie James, Sophie Okonedo, Chiwetel Ejiofor and Idris Elba are among those in the running for acting prizes, while Estelle and Leona Lewis are pitted against each other in the music categories.
It almost didn't happen at all. A major sponsor pulled out late last year, leaving the event tens of thousands of pounds in the red. "Everyone said we were dead in the water, and many people may have been quietly satisfied at that situation," said organiser Charles Thompson. Some drastic cost-cutting and support from the Film Council and the BBC allowed it to go ahead.
The awards, now in their sixth year, are needed more than ever, claims Mr Thompson. "Diversity hasn't changed in any major way for several years, and as a result the demand for an event of this nature is even greater.... Some people, without a doubt, are paying lip service to cultural diversity, and nothing's really changing," he said.
And if the situation continues, the new generation of black British talent will simply go abroad in search of fame and fortune, according to Mr Thompson. "You have young talents desperate to express themselves, but they may find there is this glass ceiling they will hit pretty soon and they will go elsewhere," he warned.
Unsurprisingly, Bafta is telling anyone who will listen just how seriously it takes the issue. "We are very aware of diversity at Bafta and there's a real determination to make a change," said its chief executive, Amanda Berry, "We're doing a lot, and a lot more than we ever used to."
Critics point out, however, that these assurances need to be reflected on the stage at the Baftas ceremony.
Stars of diversity
Chiwetel Ejiofor is nominated for a Screen Nation 'best male performance' award for his role in 'American Gangster'.
Sophie Okonedo has been nominated for playing Nancy in the BBC's recent adaptation of 'Oliver Twist'.
Ashley Walters has won acclaim for his portrayal of a crack addict in 'Sugar House'.
Marianne Jean-Baptiste was the first black British actress to be nominated for an Oscar. Left the UK for a career on US television.
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