Caribbean (IN)Visibility on British TV/Cinema Screens – CaribDirect Seminar
Dominica High Commission
Thursday 5th December 2013
CaribDirect hosted an excellent seminar on the lack of Black presence on British TV and cinema screens as part of their ‘The Caribbean and you’ seminar series.
The seminar was hosted by Angie Le Mar, winner of Best Theatre Lead at the recent 10th Anniversary Black Comedy awards for her acting in her play ‘In My Shoes’. Attendees heard presentations from Ron Belgrave, Director Sankofa Televisual, Akin Salami, Chief Executive, OHTV, Marcus Ryder, BBC Scotland Executive and Royal Television Society Member, Samuell Benta, Director and Actor, All About the McKenzies and Aml Ameen, Film,TV Actor – ‘The Butler’ and ‘The Bill’.
The seminar was dedicated to the late Felix Dexter and a minute’s silence was observed at the start of the evening to his memory. He was originally booked to host the show, but sadly as a result of his untimely death on October 18th 2013 that was not possible. Felix was honoured at The Black Comedy Awards 2013 on 19th December with a posthumous Lifetime Achievement Award.
In an insightful and highly fascinating seminar, one of the things that stood out for me were the jaw dropping statistics set out before the audience. For instance, Akin Salami outlined a selection of statistics on the number of non-British TV channels in Britain.
60 – Asian channels.
6 – African.
0 – Caribbean channels.
That’s astonishing and at the same time quite depressing that well over 50 years since Black Caribbean’s have settled in Britain, there still isn’t a single Caribbean TV channel.
“If we don’t see images of ourselves reflected on screen it must have a huge impact on people’s self-identity. It’s part of our psychological diet,” said Akin as he reflected on the relative paucity of Black faces seen on TV/Cinema, especially Black British one’s.
Marcus Ryder, brother of Barrister, Mathew Ryder, said whilst there are a few Caribbean programmes on TV, these do not reflect proportionately with the ethnic breakdown of the UK:
14% – UK population
15.6% – London’s populations
40% – London is Black and Minority Ethnic
69% – UK Black population live in London
50% – Black people watch Eastenders.
17% – UK population watch BBC comedy.
5% – Black population watch BBC comedy.
Clearly Black people are under-represented when it comes to comedy, including scripted comedy such as sit-coms. He argued that the population statistics should be reflected in the Black presence on TV screens. I found the statistics on comedy astonishing, quite shocking and hard to believe. I may be biased as a lover of and promoter of comedy, but to say only 5% of Black people watch BBC comedy is quite something. Black people are quite a loyal audience though. That much is apparent from the high proportion of Black people who loyally follow the goings on in Albert Square, home of ‘Eastenders’.
Samuell delivered a brilliant and powerful presentation, giving his take on what got him into writing, acting and directing. His driving force was the lack of Black British shows on TV, for whilst he could watch US sit-coms and shows such as ‘The Fresh Prince of Bel Air’ on any day of the week, his life wasn’t reflected on TV, so he set about writing it himself via the web series, ‘All About the McKenzies’. That was nominated for ‘Best Web Series’ at The Black Comedy Awards 2013. His show has now had a third series commissioned to go on TV on the new London Live channel in 2014.
That just shows what can be done with talent, belief and a lot of hard work and determination to overcome obstacles and succeed.
Marcus said viewers need to complain – not to one another or on social media, but via the correct channels, where their complaints have to be addressed and cannot be ignored i.e. by writing into the BBC or ITV for instance. He admitted that TV executives, himself included, hate getting complaints as it means that they have to spend a lot of time replying to them, thereby taking them away from the production, creative and strategic side of their role, which they would much rather focus on.
It was also suggested that viewers need to start supporting and watching Black satellite channels. Once the bigger, terrestrial channels see their ratings rise they’ll start taking an interest and perhaps buy the show for their channel or invest in similar programme content that they realise there is an audience for Black shows.
Professor Gus John stressed the need for people to “develop a collective consciousness. To collectively support one another and Black channels.”
The Dominican High Commissioner Ms H.E Francine Baron thanked everyone for their contributions and acknowledged that there was much work to be done to increase the representation of Black people on British television and cinema.
There was talk of re-showing The Real McCoy. I think that’s rather a tired old argument that needs to be put to bed. It’s history. Clearly, in spite of the demand and keen interest from the public, the BBC aren’t going to release it. People need to move on. Hale and Pace, The Harry Enfield Show and many other shows date back to The Real McCoy times (1991-1996), but people don’t go on about re-showing those much loved shows. It’s time we had developed other comedy shows, sit-coms, dramas and documentaries etc… in much the same way as many other shows have been produced since then.
The title of this Blog asks why has Black TV failed to progress beyond ‘The Real McCoy’. Perhaps there has been too much harking back to the “good old days” and not enough creative, forward-looking individuals like Samuell Benta deciding to create their own series that reflect their lives today. Yes, the mainstream channels clearly have not invested in contemporary Black British shows to the extent many would have liked to have seen.
The web series creators, including ‘At Home with the Adebanjo’s’, winner of Best Web Series at The Black Comedy Awards 2013 are showing there is another way. This show has crossed over successfully onto multiple platforms – on-line, TV (The Africa Channel), theatre and DVD.
I also think there is a role for the Black satellite channels to do more to channel Black acting, comedic, musical and journalisic talent via their platforms. Of course, it’s fair and reasonable to challenge the BBC, since we pay license fee money and one can argue that money should be spent proportionately and that it’s output should represent all UK citizen’s. However, in this era of multiple satellite channels and competition, I don’t think it is right to just blame the BBC for everything and leave it at that. We have to look forward, create for self and if the terrestrial channels show interest fine, if not, move on, onwards and upwards creating shows that Black television and cinema viewers wish to watch.
© Tiemo Talk of the Town
Vox Africa report (4 minutes) featuring interviews with Aml Ameen, Angie Le Mar, Ron Belgrave and Samuell Benta
Video of the seminar (26 minutes)
Carib Direct review and photo gallery
Making complaints to BBC and ITV
ITV complaints – general public advice