Bread and butter

Screen

It’s not often that I see myself represented on the big screen but it is getting much better. I have been thinking about this since the whole #oscarssowhite controversy has blown up. It has always been a fact that the majority of the films and TV shows that I have been exposed to would be mostly populated by white people. I live in the Western world surrounded by American and European influences so therefore that does not come as complete surprise. When I was younger I was often, a little put out and upset in ways that I could not vocalise that I did not see young black girls that looked like me on TV or in adverts, but I told myself  that this was because I lived in the UK and there were not many of us. However I did wonder why there were very few families like mine represented in adverts for buying ordinary everyday things when it was clear that – we bought toothpaste, cosmetics, food and other such consumables. However coming from a Nigerian background I was exposed to endless Nigerian movies and adverts as a child and in my later years Nollywood phenomena so I knew that ‘people like me’ did exist in the ‘real world’, we could act, did write plays and stories. It was only later that I began to ask myself when I watched British and American TV – that I began to ask myself “where are all the black people?”. And then later when I did see them – they never seemed to have flattering roles or be doing interesting things. I remember in my early years in the 70s and 80s whenever I did see black people on TV they never seemed happy or something not so nice was happening to them.  When I was growing up it occurred to me on many occasions that if I was not black and did not live among black people that I might have an extremely negative view of black people. And in fact – there where times when I was very young that I was almost relieved that there were no black people in some films because at least they would not be doing things or having things done to them that made me very uncomfortable in my own skin. My parents did there very best to counteract these negative influences and attitudes but they were insidious and crept in.

Then I went to university and found myself surrounded by people of a range of colours and religions and breathed a sigh of relief – I was actually part of society despite what the big screens and TV were telling me! The images that I had been exposed to thus far had not told me that I could stand for anything good, uplifting and positive. This had seeped into my mind despite the hard work of my hard working Nigerian parents to counteract what society was telling me by its negative  images or lack of images of black people. Things are different now – in that for me – I know what is shown it not always the truth – although always a truth in how a particularly director or producer see the world. I know that we are surrounded by stereotypes and lies and that one has to seek and live their truth and live with integrity . I know where to seek out films (and books) that represent me i.e. a young black woman making her way in the world just like everybody else. I am still very open and interested in all films that people what to make that represent their values and interests because that is a true representation of life. I do not buy into the idea, that some people are purporting that perhaps black people and other who are not white are somehow less good, less deserving of awards and appreciation. That of course is total nonsense. I see that this issue can be deliberately divisive. I can also see that in the grand scheme of climate change, battle for resources, wars, humanitarian crisis and other such entities – this is but small fry. However it important in that when stories get told using the medium of film, this will influence an number of people who will assume that this is they way life is and meant to be. The influence is insidious.

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