Recently by Michael Mclean
It had to happen, Titanic has been replaced as the number one grossing film of all time. Now while the smile on my face grew and grew wider each day as I watched the inevitable happen. (I hate Titanic with a passion, a dreadful manipulative film, which managed to tap into a society that thinks the solution to the world's problems, is tears; there was almost a hysterical need for people to cry at this film.
I want you to try and do something for me, name five British actors, I know, where's the challenge in that? You want a challenge; ok then, name five British actors who happen to be black? Still think that this is easy?
For such a multi cultural nation, why is there a dearth of black actors and actresses on the UK's television screens?
Now let me start with this, I am not a fan of just putting a black face on screen because its black, what I want to see is acting roles going to the best actors, irrespective of what colour they are. I want to see new and challenging characters gracing our television screens, not just the stereotypical portrayals that we see in soaps or crime/police series, I want to see a character that has a personality not a personality type, that can reach the audiences hearts and minds, not just an audience demographic, and most importantly characters that will take the programme forward rather than just fill a gap when a viewer group says the show needs a black character.
Its not as if we don't have the talent, people will recognise the name and face of Colin Salmon, who pops up in films and television series and was mentioned as a possible James Bond before Daniel Craig claimed the role and turned in a great performance. (I have to say the idea of a black a black James Bond may have made good tabloid headlines but in reality it was never going to happen)
But how many of you have heard of Chiwetel Ejiofor, Idris Elba, Marianne Jean Baptiste, Naveen Andrews, Adrian Lester, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Marsha Thompson, Lennie James or Thandie Newton. If I strike lucky you may have heard of one or two of them, but did you know all of them are British? Did you know all of them are regulars on American television and movies, with series like Lost, The Wire, Without a trace, along side films such as American Gangster, Secrets and Lies, Hotel Rwanda. All of them have made a major impact on the other side of the pond yet are still relatively unknown in their own country, three of them have been nominated for Oscars, yet have almost know public profile in this country. I have to say that one of my favourite programmes on television at the moment is The Wire, it quite simply is fantastic television and Idris Elba who was in it for three seasons was a revelation, but do you have any idea he is?
One of the first black actors I remember seeing regularly on British television was Eamon Walker was played Marigold in the BBC series 'In Sickness and in Health' now that may now have been the first series to feature a black actor as a regular cast member, but it was the first one that I recall after the dreadful Love Thy Neighbour, which placed racial stereotyping on mainstream television.
Marigold was a character that was in the series because he was everything that the bigoted lead Alf Garnett hated, he was gay, he was educated, he was handsome and he was black, the character became the nemesis of the main character, but the two shared a bond of sorts. He protested that he hated him; he insulted him, mocked him but ultimately lost out to him in every episode, but along with the insults came a respect, one that allowed no one else to ridicule or mock the character. Marigold gave the series in a new dimension and took it forward. Now think about it when was the last time you saw Eamon Walker on television, he vanished from his role as Malcolm Haynes on The Bill in 1989. But fear not he is alive and well and making a good living on US TV and on the stage.
That was over 20 years ago and we don't appear to have come very far, mainstream roles seem to go to people with a profile rather than the best acting talent available, rappers and stand up comics seem to becoming a regular feature on British television. What happened to the stars of the future that learn their trade in drama school and then master their skills on the stage before becoming the household names they deserve to be? What has happened to producers and casting directors working on high profile or big budget films who base casting on quality rather than potential viewing figures. With the possible exception of Guy Ritchie who seems to casts his films to represent the environment of the story he is trying to tell, mixing all creeds and colours, with varying degrees of success, the subject seems to be one overlooked by the industry.
Just because someone graces the front pages of the national newspapers does not make them talented performers. Yet time and again they get roles they really don't deserve, while years of study, training, determination and hard work are overlooked on this side of the pond.
Why is it that the cream of Britain's acting talent has to cross the Atlantic to have their talents recognised, surely talent is talent no matter what the colour?