TV and Film

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August 21, 2013

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In the Media

Newspapers

It’s time to boost ethnic minority representation in the media
My #AllWhiteFrontPages campaign highlights the need for more journalists of colour to properly reflect British society

Why are black female victims seemingly invisible?
The representation of black women victims needs to be drastically improved to prevent dehumanisation, argues Joy Goh-Mah.

Oprah Winfrey’s only misdemeanour was to travel and be black
I can sympathise with the TV star who was refused service in a Swiss store, but for a black person going on holiday this is all too familiar ~Maurice McCloeod

Immigration is a Messy, Human Story
As a migrant myself I understand the need for controls, but immigration spot checks equate being British with being white.

Media Blogs

The New Dr is….. @tokenbg
Since Matt Smith announced his departure as the titular lead in Doctor Who, conversations have spread throughout geekland, speculating on who the next Doctor would be. And throughout these conversations, I kept coming back to the same conclusion; it’s going to be another white, cisgender male, isn’t it?

Idris Elba is Hollywood’s Troublemaker
There are few names as globally recognisable as Nelson Mandela. And likely even fewer whose name generally invokes strong feelings of warmth and goodwill.

RADIO

BBC Derby Interview on the #AllWhiteFrontPages campaign & @WritersofColour

BBC London 94.9 Dontun Adebeyo’s Sunday Shoe -  Black women – representations in the British media

BBC Radio 4, Woman’s Hour: Is feminism racist?

Top Boy and Black Stories

By Damilola Odelola

Top Boy returned for its second season in September, after a year-long hiatus, it resumed a comfortable spot. The story follows a group of young (and sometimes older) people on a fictional Hackney estate, Summerhouse, involved with drug dealing and gang violence. During it’s first season, it was often likened to America’s The Wire and understandably so. The characters are multi-dimensional and complex; they aren’t just drug dealers or gang bangers, they are orphans, parents, abuse victims, business owners, etc. The writers of the show seem careful to paint these characters as human as possible, making it hard for us, the viewers, to completely demonise them because they are relatable. We see aspects of us in them.

Top Boy

When this second season premièred, many were excited and looked with anticipation for the first episode, but I did see a few who weren’t so happy with the return of the series. The complaints generally followed along the lines of “more negative images of black people, more black gangsters and drug dealers, more black murderers, more bad black people…”.To an extent, I understand this frustration, my piece Whitewashed TV partly looks into this very problem of not having enough positive black characters on British television. But that’s the problem, not enough positive black images or stories on television. The issue isn’t that Top Boy portrays negative images of black people – after all these characters and stories are real – the issue is that there isn’t a balance on our television screens.

Majority of the Top Boy cast is black and ethnic minority, and initially my argument was going to be ‘well at least it’s not just the black people selling drugs’ and as much as this is true – there’s only one white drug dealer. The police are white with one black lawyer. Already there is a precedence set up about who’s who and the racial roles, but still, these roles are complex. For example, the white secretly-drug-addicted husband could be seen as a deceitful person who is compromising the financial and physical security of his family or could be seen as being led astray by the black dealers who will stop at nothing to get what they’re owed. Then there’s the young black dealer, the apprentice if you will, who runs an errand to the drug-addicted husband’s house and is consumed by his library of books. He wants to know more, he wants to discuss history and know how many books the library holds but is pushed away by the husband. On one hand this can be seen as a husband trying to keep his secret a secret, and on the other it could be seen as the husband preventing the young apprentice from learning/education. On the surface, the racial boarders of the show don’t seem as obvious as white = good, and black = bad but there are hints of it.

So in a sense, Top Boy does contribute and feed into negative racial stereotypes. However, as I said before, these are real stories and do depict real life situations. The majority of inhabitants on many a London estate are black or ethnic minority, but these are not the only stories. I’ve grown up on a London estate, and still live there and I have never been involved in drug or gang related activities and I know this is the case for others out there too. My estate is not notoriously ‘bad’ but is not ‘good’ either, if I wanted to get involved in those things I very easily could have.

The solution to countering the negative stories of black people on television isn’t to silence those stories. Those stories need to be told, black narratives have been historically silenced for a long time. I mean, in school black history begins at slavery as if black people magically appeared in Africa when white people got there, for the sole purpose of being slaves. Just because these narratives don’t reflect black people in the best manner, does not mean they shouldn’t be told. It is possible for white people to have good and bad narratives on television at one time, so why can’t the same be for black and ethnic minorities?

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What made The Wire so successful wasn’t just its ability to tell realistic black narratives, but it was its ability to give a holistic view. The Wire wasn’t just about the drug dealers and gang bangers, it was about the police force, the school system, the media. It successfully critiqued these institutions and showed their corruption and failings in detail. The police force did not equal the good guys; they were corrupt and dealt with their own internal issues. Although Top Boy is not The Wire and the stories being told are different, it would be a nice change if the stories weren’t just about the drug dealers and gang bangers, but also about institutional racism within the police force and the way the school system fails people of colour.

On a larger scale, it’s the responsibility of writers to write black stories that don’t conform to the negative stereotype and for networks to accept them. If it’s possible for white stories to be interesting whether they are good or bad, then the same goes for black and ethnic minority stories too.

Damilola Odelola is a 21 year old English Literature and Creative Writing graduate, and poet. She is a Nigerian-born London girl, with a passion for African Literature which she intends to study at The School of Oriental and African Studies. She loves to teach and work with youth, she tutors English Literature and has just begun running poetry writing and performance workshops. Raised in a Christian home, Damilola enjoys writing about religion and faith, as well as race, feminism, and other random stuff that can’t be easily categorised. She stores her work at damii scribbles and she can be found talking far too much at @damiiscribbles

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Eastenders: Not Quite #AllWhiteTV; Doesn’t Make It Right

by Yacine Assoudani

EastEnders: the golden child of our Aunt Beeb that we have come to accept as an institution.

EastEnders

As recognisable a facet of British culture as awkward silences on the tube, the Royal family and Fish n Chips; the quintessentially Ing-Ger-Lish soap opera, far flung from our American counterparts like Dallas, with their lavish sets and fine furniture. No, not EastEnders. EastEnders isn’t about that life. EastEnders is the show by the Londoners, for the Londoners – everybody lives in a cramped up terraced house, refuses to pronounce their T’s and indulges in H-dropping – Londoners.

That is enough now. The above paragraph took a great deal of strength to write. To romanticise EastEnders in that manner, having done research for this article by watching old clips on Youtube and iPlayer, I tell you, it was an ordeal. I sat there, going through this EastEnders marathon thinking I’d rather watch gears grind. Either way, it was like watching gears grind seeing personalities (or lack of) of characters being rammed down your throat. I am a humble person, my Mum can confirm this – but seriously, I truly believe I have more charisma in my little toe than most of the cast combined. I’ve seen more charisma in pavement cracks.

However, it was not always like this. There was once a time when EastEnders was the breath of fresh-air that the British soap opera had been longing for. It had a niche; it plugged a gap in the market like a Shakespearean drama that had a sense of gritty, cutting-edge, kitchen-sink social realism. Finally, there was a soap that provided an accurate representation of the inner-city working-class, not quite to the level of ‘Shameless’ with kids riding on trolleys, bonfires on parks, empty beer cans galore, pissing in the kitchen sink when the loo is occupied and discarded furniture, fridges or washing machines left to rot in the front garden, but still, alleyways had puddles of piss, litter in the gutters, houses rotting like a bad tooth and graffiti decorated the walls. Whilst Aunt Beeb has given a make over to the EastEnders set, one redeeming feature is that they still try to retain elements of social reality by pushing through controversial, thought-provoking stories that deal with contemporary events. We’ve had stories about AIDS, teen pregnancy, racism, drug and alcohol addictions, mental instability, sexual orientation discrimination and many other edgy topics.

Despite this, over time we have seen EastEnders go from gritty and real to a middle-class writers’ portrayal of working-class life. Simply put, as EastEnders becomes a plot driven drama, the social realism gradually declines and I’m not talking about the mandatory rape/death/fight/incest/UFO sightings that occur every Christmas day. As we know EastEnders is set in the fictional East ‘Lahhndaaan tahhhn’ of Walford, postal district E20. Eastenders came to the small screen as a representation of a dying (predominantly) white working-class in inner-city London. According to one website dedicated to nerdy EastEnders trivia:

“The fictitious station is located on the District line. The map on the wall was printed with actual train times to and from Walford East – though closer inspection of the map showed that Walford East was located between Bow Road and West Ham (thus taking the place of Bromley-by-Bow).”

Therefore, if accuracy is to be considered EastEnders would represent inner-city, highly multi-ethnic slums such as Bow, Tower Hamlets, Hackney, Walthamstow and Mile End as opposed to highly industrialised and distinctively (white) working-class East London suburban towns such as Barking and Dagenham. Although it is economically viable for the BBC to film EastEnders at Elstree studios in Borehamwood, Hertfordshire; that landscape is of leafy suburbs, bungalows and wood-land as opposed to a proper East-End skyline consisting of motorway systems, factories, sky-scraping rows tower blocks. These basic discrepancies are all the more baffling when you consider the words of Eastenders’ writer Julia Smith:

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Be Part of Media Diversity UK’s TV Campaign! #AllWhiteTV

EastEnders programme makers took the decision that the show was to be about everyday life in the inner city today and regarded it as a slice of life. [Emphasis mine]
Creator/producer Julia Smith declared, “We don’t make life, we reflect it”. She also said, “We decided to go for a realistic, fairly outspoken type of drama which could encompass stories about homosexuality, rape, unemployment, racial prejudice, etc. in a believable context. Above all, we wanted realism

EastEnders is known to attempt to mimic contemporary events to the extent that they quickly throw together scenes whereby characters speak about current events despite filming usually weeks before the show comes on air. More recently, Eastenders has made reference to Andy Murray’s Wimbledon victory and the birth of the Royal Baby. Take for example the market stalls that the characters conveniently find work in. The general vibe is still one of the antiquated British market with chirpy cockney geezers screaming “three for a pahhhhhndd”, when in reality, if you go to a market in East London, it’s a lot more “1 pound fish”. It raises the following question: is it clear that the EastEnders writers try to stay in touch with the times, but do they (or their researchers) take the time to stay in touch with society?

Does EastEnders represent the multi-ethnic diverse outlook in London today? Or do they throw in a token immigrant every now and then to appease soppy liberals like myself? First and foremost, where is the Somali family in EastEnders? Since 1993, the Somali community has continued to expand all around the UK from suburbs to inner-cities, even more so in London. It is a community that faces a lot of hate from hate-mongering right-wing rags portraying them as work-shy, benefit-scrounging freeloaders. Bear in mind that the first wave of immigrants from Somalia were predominantly refugee and thusly placed in social housing/council estates. For EastEnders to claim that it reflects ordinary life, yet ignores this diaspora, is shocking. Maybe their writers have met many Average Joes…but not yet an Average Abdi. Actually, I’m not really that shocked about the non-inclusion of certain communities in EastEnders, mostly due to the fact that there was a big hoo-har about Syed’s homosexuality in what was emphasised to be a hugely conservative Pakistani Muslim family. Yes, the Masouds, perhaps the only conservative devout Muslim family that has pub lunches, because the Queen Vic is the go-to place for orange juice and vegetable stew.

270410_zainab_masood“the devout Muslim, Pakistani, Masood family deciding to congregate in a … pub?

I understand that as a pre-watershed production EastEnders cannot freely highlight the colourful language and recreational drug-use prominent in working-class communities. However, there is no excuse for characters who have lived in cramped terraced houses to be riding cost-extortionate black cabs. None, whatsoever. And whilst the character of FatBoy incorporates certain facets of Multi-Cultural London English in his speech, a character like Liam is still going around saying “that’s sick, blad”. Is it that hard for the writers to just go to any school in London and hear how the kids speak? Or is the calendar on the bubble they are living in still stuck at 2004? For the Bens, Abbies and Laurens, where are the kids in the youth hostels? The ones that didn’t grow up in a nuclear family? The ones that took to drug-dealing and crime not because they were peer pressured by yuppies with slit eyebrows doing their best Dizzee Rascal impression, but because they actually have to make a living or else starve? But EastEnders doesn’t cast using the traditional audition and call-back operation. Instead, in their search for child/young actors they approach agencies and stage-schools; institutions that charge fees. They charge fees paid for by parents, the fees are abnormally high so those parents would often (have to be) quite well to-do. That child would usually have a privileged upbringing. Then, that child is expected to represent a community or aspect of life they do not know about or are extensively accustomed to (surroundings, environment, experiences etc.) in a manner that is socially real.

The portrayal of urban/hood life in London is a forced and contrived attempt by evidently middle-class Eastenders who haven’t consulted with the communities they portend to represent. I’m willing to put aside the 2004 slang. What I can’t put aside is that this is one of the very few representations of multi-cultural London English in Eastenders. And who is speaking in it? The very epitome, the embodiment of what the red-top rags label the ‘feral youth’, ‘chavs’, ‘ASBOs’ and other labels derogatory to socio-economic foundations. This simply reinforces the elitist widespread belief that MCLE is a language of the streets, a language of the uneducated, uncouth and unashamedly ignorant and unsympathetic. As a result of education and other modes of social mobility, people born in the hood have been able to propel themselves to a higher socio-economic class and a greater level of cultural capital. This, whilst retaining their very own mode of speech they were raised with. But these people don’t exist on Albert Square. The people speaking MCLE on Eastenders are those feral black boys leading the poor white boy astray. If Eastenders wasn’t fictional, we’d say that this is the self-fulfilling prophecy of David Starkey’s riots comments (on the topic of the riots not being race-related this time) that “white boys are turning black” being the reason for social decay.

Eastenders-Albert-Square-2044803Not only this – but look at the representation of the ‘gang’. ‘Yobs, hooded thugs’ you can pick or chose what Daily Mail anti-youth buzzword you want to use. We know all about poor Liam, thusly the unassuming audience to pushed to sympathise him. For Bianca’s sake, for Tiffany and Whitney and Morgan and Ricky. We know nothing all about the domestic, mental, social, economic and historic situation of any of the other youths, apart from the fact they think peer-pressure is more effective when “mans” prefixes every statement. And then they go marching down the street en masse being very loud a la a pack of wild animals hunting prey. Look, we’re not asking for detailed coverage of the noble struggle in the ghetto where yes, drugs are sold and scams are run, generally by good-hearted people who somehow need a means of survival. Nor are we asking for a lovable rogue, a sort of hood Phil Mitchell. We don’t even ask for some questioning of an educational system that has left so many poorly equipped to succeed in-life or a sorry state of affairs where it is easier to distribute drugs/do crime than get a job interview (not even, the actual job, just the interview). All we ask is stop painting such a blinkered picture of urban/hood whatever you want to call it. It is a culture, a lifestyle, a way of living…it needs to be appreciated, understood and most importantly REPRESENTED as such, not just this permanent mind-frame of relentless greaziness and terror.

Yacine Assoudani is an 18 year old writer of Afro-Arabian descent, born and raised in Hayes, West London. Tweet him @YassinMY

August, 12, 2013

Media Diversity UK is taking on a new and exciting challenge.

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Working with a number of large media organisations we will be examining the lack of roles for Black and visibly ethnic minority actors in the UK and revealing our findings at a major event in central London.

We are recruiting 30 volunteers to collect data from the five main terrestrial channels. BB1. BBC2, ITV1, Channel 4, Channel 5 in the first week of September. Sunday 1st to Sunday 8th Sept inclusive. We’ll be researching the % of speaking roles for BME actors. The % of speaking roles for white actors. Major roles (Equity’s definition) and Minor roles (Equity’s definition) in three areas; Soaps, Sitcoms and Drama during Primetime hours 7pm – 11pm (British made shows)

Volunteers must be prepared to do two sessions of 4 hours, be reliable, and attend a two hour training session (or Skype) in central London in the last week of August. Date TBC (We can offer travel cost reimbursement up to an agreed amount) The results will be presented to TV industry decision makers, actors an academics at an event in September.

Please email mediadiversityUK@gmail.com with your interest in becoming involved and any experience you have in data collection. Deadline Tuesday 27th August

DJANGO ‘THE EXCEPTIONAL N*GGER’

by The Auracle

It was the film everyone was talking about for months on end. Django Unchained had taken the world by storm and Quentin Tarantino had once again made a cultural masterpiece it seemed; another ultra-violent instant classic Jamie Foxx, Kerry Washington, Samuel L. Jackson, Leonardo DiCaprio, and Christoph Waltz – who won an Oscar, a Golden Globe, and a Bafta for Best Supporting Actor -  all did exceptionally well with the roles they were given in this over-the-top antebellum era western film, keeping the film’s dialogue as engaging as the brutal shootouts. As I sat with my missus to watch the film everyone raved about, I was taken on an emotional journey that I’ll not forget about in a hurry.

I’m not here to debate the historical inaccuracies of Django. Frankly, every film set in a particular era like the antebellum one has its inaccuracies and so does Django. The Top 10 Most Historically Inaccurate Movies  I won’t debate the frequent usage of the word ‘nigger.’  Not only is this debate never-ending but in my opinion, it wasn’t the word that made the film such a challenge to watch. I’m also not here to talk about the perceived anti-white people rhetoric that this film was purported to have.  To put to you point-blankly, I feel these white men that write in to newspapers or verbalise their views live on television about how they fear black people everywhere will massacre them like the title character did his aggressors is about as over-the-top and believable as the film itself. No, none of these things in the film turned the underside of my solar plexus into a battlefield where the war between intense rage and a deep anguish fought for supremacy.

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Django was as emotionally challenging to watch as Roots, Queen, Rosewood, and Amistad.  Why?  Simple, really: I find it difficult to watch dramatisations of how black people were treated during these eras… and I believe no amount of bold and daring reprisals would ever truly accurately depict the treatment of blacks just like The Passion of the Christ will never really accurately depict how Christ was believed to be literally beaten to a pulp before and during his crucifixion.  It’ll always be a case of “close but no cigar” for me.

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Nevertheless, the treatment of slaves and black people gets to me no matter how many times I tell myself: ‘Relax, mate. It’s a film. It’s not the genuine article.’ It was the viewing of the scars on their backs; seeing them whipped and made as an example; seeing the women raped (not in Django, mind;, seeing legions of blacks transported in ships and chains; seeing them oiled up to make them look more attractive to potential buyers; seeing them treat as something less than human; seeing the elite white males justify their bigotry and belief in white supremacy with warped logic and venom-tinged rhetoric (DiCaprio’s character called someone like Django ‘the exceptional nigger,’ 1 in every 10,000); it was these things that made the film such an emotional struggle.  It’s these things that remind me of the historical events that actually did happen that so few know about.   It’s these things that remind me how far the world has come and it’s the mixed bag of reactions and comment pieces that serve as a further reminder of how much further we’ve got to go.

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Don’t get me wrong: Django – from a strictly artistic standpoint – deserves the accolades it got, in my opinion.  I just won’t be in a hurry to watch it again.  Some people will never understand why but that I think is down to a lack of empathy… and empathy is something I have in abundance when I watch films set in these particular eras where dogs and horses were treat with a higher regard than black people were.  I will never not have that kind of emotional reaction and it is my belief that those who are unmoved when viewing the depictions of slavery that are the ones who truly have a problem.  Not me.

Related

Django Deconstructed: Returning Tarantino’s “Gift”

Morgan Freeman, it’s time to retire the ‘Magical Negro’ role

THE SHUKLA TEST

by Nikesh Shukla

Someone wrote of one of my short stories that it was ‘an amorphous mess of Indian names’. The implication was that, had I gone with more traditional names like Steve, Bob, Andy, Joe and Paul, he would have liked the short story more. Having said that, he did end the review by saying that despite the fact that the characters were Indian, there was a universal experience to be had. Again, the implication being that, Indians don’t have universal experiences, they have Indian ones.

A thing I say a lot is, ‘everyone in books, films or television is white unless they have to do something brown.’ It’s not often Ranjit is at the pub having a universal experience with Steve, Bob, Andy, Joe and Paul. While Steve, Bob, Andy, Joe and Paul have their universal experience, Ranjit is off somewhere worrying about being brown. Probably because of his job or his parents.

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But ‘I don’t want to be tokenistic’, people say. ‘I don’t want to put a brown character in just for the sake of it. That’s tokenism.’ The sad thing about that type of tokenism is that it presupposes that everyone is white, so to have anyone ethnic would off-piste. It’s not tokenistic for me to go out with Steve, Bob, Andy, Joe and Paul and for them to ask me about my day, my wife, my opinion on the new Solange Knowles EP. They rarely ask me what it’s like to be brown and the fact that I am, well, it just hardly ever comes up. But if a character like me was inserted into a film, that would be tokenistic. Probably because everyone presupposes everyone in television, books or film is white unless they have to do something brown. I’ve had projects featuring brown people doing mundane things like fighting, fucking, loving, losing etc turned down because ‘the characters aren’t relatable’ or ‘they don’t feel authentically Asian’, while at the same time seeing the same things being made featuring Caucasians. If that’s the case, then screw it, I’m all for tokenism.

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I’ve been thinking about the Bechdel test for films where a film must have a) two or more main female characters who b) talk to each other about c) something other than men. It’s amazing to see that not many films pass this test. So, I’m initiating this now (unless it’s already been done…): The Shukla Test, for books, films and television where a) two main characters who are people who of colour b) talk to each other without c) mentioning their race.

I can’t think of a single film where this has happened. Except in Bollywood.

Let’s just look at the last couple of things I’ve seen. I’m rating this on the Apu scale where 0 Apu’s means it passes The Shukla Test and 10 Apu’s means… wow, this is racist.

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Django Unchained: this one’s difficult given its subject matter but if we’re clinically applying the test… it does have two people of colour (Jamie Foxx, Samuel L Jackson – tick) talk for five minutes (one of the final showdowns) about… oh dear, they mention race a few times. I give Django Unchained 7 Apu’s.

Safety Not Guaranteed: there’s one Indian character (oh-oh), so he gets to talk to no other people of colour for five minutes, but they only mention he’s Indian once, and a manchild nerd the rest of the time, so I guess that’s progress. This gets 5 Apu’s.

So, there we have it… The Shukla Test. Until Ranjit can sit next to Steve, Joe, Andy, Paul and Bob (who is a Punjabi named Bobby) and have a film conversation about exposition and not about race, we’ll be stuck in a world that insists on colour casting, that won’t allow for black Spider-men or for characters from The Hunger Games to be played by a diverse set of actors or for sitcoms like Outsourced that perpetuated so many stereotypes it was actually more racist and offensive than Mind Your Language. And for me, with my race chip on my shoulder and my blathering on about the same issues again and again, I’ll be quietly applying The Shukla Test to everything I watch or read from now on. I hope you do too.

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Can anyone name some films that pass The Shukla Test?

The New Dr. is….. @tokenbg

by Shane Thomas
This post first appeared in The TV Collective

Since Matt Smith announced his departure as the titular lead in Doctor Who, conversations have spread throughout geekland, speculating on who the next Doctor would be. And throughout these conversations, I kept coming back to the same conclusion; it’s going to be another white, cisgender male, isn’t it?

And yet, I’d be lying if there wasn’t part of me that thought, “What if?” “What if it’s a woman?” “What if it’s a black man?” “What if it’s a woman of colour? Intersectionality on Doctor Who? Could it happen?” It was like being a fan of a mid-table Premier League club; you know that your team is never going to win the league, but as the season approaches, you allow a sliver of chimeric wonder to enter your mind. Maybe this year, this year, it will happen.

Inevitably, I was left disappointed. For clarity’s sake, my bugbear isn’t that the new Doctor is a white, cisgender male. It’s that all twelve Doctors have been white, cisgender males. Journalist, Bim Adewumni tweeted sentiments regarding the casting of Peter Capaldi that align closely with my own. And while the fact that’s he’s older than previous Doctors is a positive, it may also have remnants of male privilege.

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In the film, Chasing Amy, writer/director Kevin Smith gives Ben Affleck’s character (who authors a comic-book) a line in which he talks about the target audience for his comic; “Over or underweight guys who don’t get laid. They’re our bread and butter.” This is a throwaway line in the context of the movie, but makes a telling statement regarding the perception of people who like ‘geeky pursuits’. All that sentence was missing was Affleck’s character saying, “”Over or underweight white guys who don’t get laid.” Did you notice the cutaways to the audience during the half-hour press release that doubled up as an announcement for Capaldi’s casting? Finding people of colour in the crowd was not easily done.

So, white guy loves geeky things? Standard practice. But anyone else? That’s either anomalous or suspicious, which causes prejudice such as this. Steven Moffat is reported as saying that now didn’t feel “right” to have a female Doctor[1], which shows that the sexism in Doctor Who goes to the very top.

In his first interview since being cast, Capaldi stated that he felt Doctor Who “belongs to all of us.”

To which I say, yes Peter, it does. All of us. As earlier mentioned, I think he’ll do a fine job as The Doctor, and those making wearisome Malcolm Tucker based jokes should look at his excellent work in the second series of The Hour for some indication of what to expect from him. My problem isn’t with Capaldi at all, but with the unchecked privilege inherent in the notion that Doctor Who is a white, cisgender male (and able-bodied) preserve – which also alienates future potential audience members.

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Well, guess what? Plenty of us who don’t fit in that aforementioned category also have a deep love for genre-fiction. And rather than be an afterthought, many of us would like to feel truly part of shows like Doctor Who.

We may love the show, but it appears that the show doesn’t love us back.

[1] But it’s right to have a male Doctor, is it Steven?

Idris Elba is Hollywood’s Troublemaker

There are few names as globally recognisable as Nelson Mandela. And likely even fewer whose name generally invokes strong feelings of warmth and goodwill.

Mandela was recently in the news as a result of his ill health, with elements of the online world and news networks partaking in an emetic game of “Nelson Mandela death watch”. Mercifully, at the time of writing,  Madiba is still with us, and he has become a talking point again by proxy, due to the release of the trailer for Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom.


The aforementioned is a movie biopic, traversing Nelson Mandela’s life. Early indications suggest that it is being positioned as strong contender for the 2014 Academy Awards. If the release date of January 3rd next year isn’t a sign to this effect, then the fact that the film’s production company is The Weinstein Company certainly is.[1]

On face value, this would seem to be a positive sign for diversity in Hollywood. After all, it’s a film where black characters are front and centre, without – as Jamilah King succinctly put it – needing a “white co-pilot”. And if you don’t think that this is an issue, more often than not, when films are made about communities of colour, the proviso is that a white character is a key cast member.[2]

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Fail to make this concession, and you can end up like Danny Glover, for whom it took years to get his biopic of Toussaint Louverture (a man who did more to end slavery than Abraham Lincoln or William Wilberforce ever did) made, because the movie “lacks white heroes”. So while there are positives from a film being made about a black icon, there are also problematic areas with this movie.

The initial press reaction to the release of the trailer has been pretty positive. I’m sure that Harvey Weinstein has already been fitted for his tux in preparation for the 2014 Oscars, and early talk suggests that Idris Elba should do the same. And yes, the thought of Elba and Naomie Harris (who plays Winnie Mandela) getting award recognition is heartening for those who’ve longed to see talented actors of colour in more prominent positions in the entertainment industry. But Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom is an African story, more specifically a South African story. So where are all the South Africans?

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First, full disclosure. I’m not the first person to notice this. This piece was initially inspired by tweets from Kola Boof and Trudy Hamilton. There is also plenty on this on Tumblr blogs such as Dynamic Africa’. It can be forgotten that black westerners – while battling against issues of race – have levels of privilege over black people around the globe.

The excuse given for the casting of an English actor as Mandela – albeit one of African descent – was that there were a lack of actors who were a similar height to the 6ft 4ins Madiba. When a casting agent gives such a weak justification, one thinks it would have been wiser to have said nothing. And even if that was the case, what’s the explanation for casting Naomie Harris (also English) as Winnie? Or for Jennifer Hudson playing her in Winnie (set for release later this year). Looking at actors who have portrayed the Mandelas in recent film/television history, they tend to be either American or British, rather than African.

I surmise that the true reasoning is the studio wants to cast actors that they feel give the movie the best chance of earning money and winning awards. So co-opting another country’s culture seems to be an afterthought, assuming it was given any thought at all. It has an undertone of the worst kind of western paternalism; we can’t expect those poor Africans to be able to tell their own history. Leave it to us industrialised nations to come and save the day[3]. The ‘Our Africa’ Tumblr has a fine riposte to that received wisdom.

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And while Elba and Harris will garner most of the attention, it’s telling that the director and writer of the film are both white English men. It seems that the movie is African in location only.

To be clear, I’m not writing the film off at this stage. I’ll probably go and see it, primarily because I think highly of both Elba and Harris as actors. Also, I’m not ignoring that a mainly black cast in a mainstream Hollywood movie is a big deal. But you don’t automatically get to be on the right side of social progress simply because you “sent for the blacks”.

Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom may end up being a wonderful work of art. But how respectful is it to the legacy of the man that the story is ostensibly honouring?

Nelson Mandela is a legendary African. So it’s a pity that African people weren’t given a fair chance to tell his story.

[1] – The Weinstein Company’s co-chairman, Harvey Weinstein has turned Oscar season from a self-congratulatory affair into a campaign that rivals some political elections. Weinstein spends money attempting to win awards for his movies, the way that Roman Abramovich spent money to ensure that Chelsea won the Champions League.

[2] – Examples of this are as follows; Dangerous Minds, Django Unchained, Glory, The Last Samurai, Avatar, Dances With Wolves, Pocahontas.

[3] – Because the history between Africa and the West is such an auspicious one… right?

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