Diversity in Film; No Longer a Figment of Our Imagination

By Greta Ruffino

It has been a great year for the promotion of diversity within the film industry. BAME artists have produced and played several exciting central characters, in what appear to be some very promising movies. We wanted to get ahead with an early overview. 

 

Getting outside of that box, the film industry has recently produced some moving stories that explore the lives of people of colour:

Amma Asante: A United Kingdom

Already known for bringing ‘Belle’ to the screen, Amma Asante is becoming big news in British film and paving the way for women and BAME directors. Her last achievement was opening during the 60th BFI London Film Festival with her film ‘A United Kingdom’. Asante was keen for her film to not only star black actors, but to show the world from a different perspective.

The director hadn’t heard the real story of the black King of Botswana, Seretse Khama (David Oyewlo) and his wife Ruth Williams (Rosamund Pike), before Oyewlo presented a photo essay project to her. “What thrilled me was to see a world that we have never seen depicted in television – elegant black men walking through the streets of London in the 40s- yet I know it existed. My London met my Africa,’’ she said.

The King faces a complicated conflict between his love for his wife and the love of his country, in a compelling story that explores the fragile race relations that threaten to tear the British Empire apart.

Based on Susan Williams’s book Colour Bar, David Oyewlo says “This story came at a time when I had done some films set in Africa”. Like The Last King of Scotland, shot in Uganda “But those films were often told through the eyes of white protagonists’.

Nate Parker: The Birth of a Nation 

When co-writer, co-producer and director Nate Parker began writing ‘The Birth of a Nation’ in 2009, it was said that the movie could not be produced because films with black leads don’t sell abroad. After investing $100,000 of his own money and bringing together investors to finance part of the film, he finally sold the rights this year to Fox Searchlight Pictures, for $17.5 million. The most lucrative deal at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival to date.

Parker provocatively copied the title from the famously racist history of America movie by DW Griffith (1915). In his historical drama Nate intends to deliver an alternative story of America’s roots, telling about the real conflicts that Nate Turner (Nate Parker), a black preacher, has to face when touring around local plantations to give sermons against slavery and violence.

“We have refused to honestly confront the many afflictions of our past” Said Nate “I’ve reclaimed this title and re-purposed it as a tool to challenge racism and white supremacy in America”.

Barry Jenkins: Moonlight

After producing ‘Medicine for Melancholy’ (2008), Barry Jenkins struggled to get his films off the ground. But his new movie ‘Moonlight’ received five star reviews and even Oscar wins – including Best Picture. The film’s star Mahershala Ali was the first Muslim actor to win an Oscar.

Moonlight opened the Rome Film Festival 2016, which was dedicated to the “changes and the challenges of integration”, as said by director Antonio Monda. Honours went to the cinematography, performances, direction and screenplay for a movie that was defined as ‘an urgent social document’ and a look at grim reality in America.

Loosely based on a play by Tarell Alvin McCraney, black protagonist Chiron (Ashton Sanders) is bullied and persecuted by other children and his family for his homosexuality. The writer/director divided Chiron’s troubled life into three sections, showing his difficulties to decide, conceal and finally accept his own sexuality.

“Someone once told me that if you don’t exist in film, then you don’t exist. Thank you to the creators of Moonlight for reminding the world that we do exist”, commented one of the audience.

Fred Kuwornu, the Afro-Italian director who presented the documentary “BlackploItalian: 100 Years of Blackness in Italian Cinema” at the Rome Film Festival, said: “Film industries believed that it was risky to embrace BAME characters and stories until a few years ago. But society demography is rapidly changing and the film industry is too.”

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