Almost 60% of British films from the last decade feature no black actors

Diversity... lack of black actors in lead roles highlighted by BFI report - Credit: BBC Films
Diversity… lack of black actors in lead roles highlighted by BFI report – Credit: BBC Films

Research from the British Film Institute has discovered that 59 percent of British movies made over the last 10 years feature no black actors in named roles.

Additionally, just 13 percent featured a black actor in a lead role, with 50 percent of those films clustered into just 47 titles, making up less than five percent of the 1,172 in the survey.

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‘Kidulthood’ star Noel Clarke is the most prolific black British actor, having made eight movies since 2006, followed by Ashley Walters, Naomie Harris, Thandie Newton, Idris Elba and Chiwetel Ejiofor.

The data from the report was presented yesterday during the Black Star Symposium, a debate about UK diversity in the movie business at the BFI’s London Film Festival.

Speaking at the event, actor David Oyelowo said: “I am very cognisant of the fact that, as it pertains to diversity, if you are not part of the solution, trust me my friend, you are part of the problem.

“We’re only going to get to the point where I don’t have to give these talks, and you don’t have to listen to these talks, and we keep on talking about diversity, if we actually start to ‘do’ diversity, and the only way that’s going to happen is if the demographics of the decision makers changes.

Speaking about his son, he added: “I told him I was going to be doing this Disney film called ‘The Queen of Katwe’, and the first thing he said to me is ‘Oh, wow daddy! Are you going to be playing the best friend?’ I didn’t really know what to say but what I knew is that that statement was a product of what he had seen.

Clarke... named the most prolific black British actor - Credit: Lionsgate
Clarke… named the most prolific black British actor – Credit: Lionsgate

“If you look at your companies, and half of your staff are not female, and a decent percentage of them are not people of colour, then you are part of the problem.”

Oyelowo is at the festival presenting his new movie ‘A United Kingdom’, a drama about Prince Seretse Khama, latterly Sir Seretse Khama and the president of Botswana, and British woman Ruth Williams whose relationship caused controversy in the late 1940s.

Whilst we feel from what we see on screen that most UK films do not cast black actors in them, and that black actors are playing the same types of roles over and again, we now have the data to support this,” said BFI creative director Heather Stewart.

“The number of lead roles for black actors has not really changed over 10 years and the types of films in which they have had leading roles suggests stereotyping.

“Colour-blind casting across genres does not really exist on the big screen, ultimately limiting representation.

“Diversity is one of the biggest issues facing film – audiences want to see the world in which we live reflected back at them.”

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