Kolton Lee, who is an award-winning Black British screen-writer, director, novelist and former journalist, has been working in British film and television since the mid-90s.
His article, ‘Why I no longer want to be speak about race and diversity to the BFI (and all the other white people that provide funding for filmmakers in the UK) or any of my white producer friends’ published on July 30th is a scathing report of his experiences in film and television.
It is fraught with an understanding that “The white people that control public funding (always white people) don’t seem to recognise almost any contemporary reality from a black perspective”.
Lee sees this as the culmination of unconscious bias, white privilege and micro-aggressions, words that have only recently been used in social scholarship, but “speak of the experiences of every film-maker and actor of colour that I know and knew”.
He has lived a pattern of writing screen-plays, attaching producers to his projects, having his characters described as ‘under-developed’ and being forced to abandon such projects due to a lack of financial support from funding bodies, without which they couldn’t be pursued.
This is demonstrated best by Lees own example of his first feature film, Chirps (2005) which is a romantic comedy with two black main characters set in London.
Having written the script and shopped it around to various funding bodies, it was ‘universally rejected’ because the characters were not engaged in battling a ‘social issue’.
Such frustrations are validated by recent research findings released by the BFI in 2016 covering the representation of Black actors in UK film from 2006 to 2016 which showed that 59% of UK films have no black actors in any role.
British Pakistani actor Riz Ahmed noted in a report commissioned by BAFTA and Creative Skillset in 2017 that “It’s twice as hard for minority actors as it is for white counterparts to achieve success… I don’t see things improving much to be honest, without concerted and decisive action on the part of funding bodies”.
The effect this is having on minority actors is massive. Lee notes that “The roles that are open to black actors are severely limited. Result? Flood of Black British actors leaving the country of their birth to find work in America”.
Over the last few years alone, Black British actors such as John Boyega, Daniel Kaluuya, and Damson Idris, have crossed to the other side of the pond in order to achieve roles in television and film that would not necessarily be available to them in the UK, strengthening their personal careers but not the UK film industry as a whole.
It is evident that a deeper conversation amongst the organisations that control finding is required in ensuring that Black people and other ethnic minorities in the UK have better opportunities to produce projects that are reflective of their own life experiences.