For many young people, and not so young people — who exist in this country that over 60 million of us self-identifying humans call home, the 21st century has brought with it a variety of shiny new inventions; most of which manage to incorporate screens into their model. Whether it’s small screens, large screens, modern screens or vintage screens, many of us just love seeing the world through a dark window that smarter people construct for us. But lately, as I’ve grown up, not just in height and width but also in knowledge and awareness of a world larger than my own — and what as a fellow human being, I have the right to demand of it — a single question has been running through my mind: where the hell am I?
Don’t get me wrong, I love – or at the very least like — this country, and I love television and cinema; but every year that goes past, leaving in its wake an abundance of token TV shows and underdeveloped token characters, as a way of appeasing those of us asking for more inclusion — I love them a little less. Because this limited representation on our screens, of people who look like me and my sisters, and all our minority friends, goes much deeper than minority actors being denied the scale of opportunity that their white counterparts are afforded. It also shows a total lack of respect and understanding (on the part of TV and movie executives) of the fact that we too exist, we’ve always existed, and we want our stories and our experiences to be recognised. From what I’ve observed in Britain, this may perhaps be due to the insistence of executives that the only TV shows and movies the British people want to see are period ones. As a lover of history, I do want to see period shows and movies, but I also want to see other things as well. For example, currently, one of my favourite TV shows is Humans; which tells the story of a group of ‘synthetic’ robots that have gained consciousness. One thing that stood out to me was the diversity of the main cast, which must have resonated with people as the show was not only well received by critics but also by viewers: proving that it can be done; people can create well-written TV shows, led in part by people who aren’t white. Additionally, a year or so ago, a TV show on the BBC, called Undercover, was bought to my attention. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that the central characters were a middle-class black family, dealing with the unravelling of a father’s secrets and a human rights court case in America — about racism within the prison system and the morals and ethics of death penalty.
However, although I believe the British TV industry is heading (slowly) in the right direction, the film industry is, unfortunately, lagging far behind. It seems determined to follow the same tired formula of period movie after period movie, or as has been the case in the last few years; awful comedies based on sitcoms that should have stayed on TV and oh yes! another Guy Ritchie geezer film. Tropes that the British people do not want, or need to see again.
We, as British people can do better, and we deserve better. I am sick and tired of watching a film whilst at the same time, anxiously waiting for that one black/ethnic-minority character to walk onto the screen. Or watching the trailer for the new Christopher Nolan film, Dunkirk; thinking to myself that the British Empire (due to its inability not colonise any country it came into contact with, that had a large population of black or brown people) was a place where the sun never set — at least one person of colour must have fought there. And being filled with horror, but not surprise upon discovering that yes, people of colour did fight alongside their white counterparts, but were left to die on the beaches, instead of being rescued by the British and the French. But mostly, I’m just tired of being ignored. I matter too. I hope and pray that things have changed by the time my 11-year-old sister is old enough to notice and care how (or if) we are represented on our screens.
Written by, Maureen Tuyishime