Black actors’ ingenious mock ads highlight scarcity of film roles in Britain

You thought #OscarsSoWhite? Wait until you hear about Britain.

Credit: Twitter, @AndrewBloch
Credit: Twitter, @AndrewBloch

A group of young performers in London reimagined themselves as lead actors in some choice acting parts in television and cinema — and then created splashy movie posters depicting themselves in the starring roles. The large-scale ads were then surreptitiously plastered at bus shelters throughout London’s Brixton community — a stealth operation with a pointed social message.

“We are always looking at the media and never seeing any positive representations of black people,” Shiden Tekle, 18, told The Guardian, describing his excitement after seeing a giant poster of himself cast as one of the leads in the hit TV show “The Inbetweeners.”

“In big films, black characters are often playing criminals and drug dealers, and that quickly conditions people to believe that all black people are like that,” the teen told the newspaper.

Tekle, along with a few friends and family members posed for the posters, while a professional photographer and graphic designer donated time to help create the images, The Guardian reported.

His father posed as James Bond in a reimagined poster for “Skyfall,” and a friend’s mother stood in for The Doctor in a recasting of “Doctor Who,” the popular television series. Other movies “recast” by the actors included Hollywood hits “Titanic” and “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.”  

A legend in bold print on some of the ads read: “If you’re surprised, it means you don’t see enough black people in major roles.”

The subversive action by the young actors in Britain came as movie lovers around the world prepare for Sunday’s Oscars ceremony. Hollywood’s biggest awards night over the years has also become a public platform for women, minorities, and other marginalized groups to air grievances and press calls for change.

The effort to call attention to a dearth of acting roles for British minorities comes while the entertainment world still swooning over the success of the blockbuster Hollywood action movie “Black Panther,” with a nearly all-black cast.

Released last month, “Black Panther” earned an effusive following in America’s black community and plaudits from critics of all colors. It was seen as a breakthrough for the black community and for a film industry reluctant to cast black people as lead protagonists.

That is an even a more acute problem in Britain, say actors there, who sometimes feel they have no choice by to ply their trade in the United States. The Guardian cited research by the British Film Institute, showing that black actors were cast in just 218 lead roles in the 1,172 British films released in the decade from 2006 to 2016.

That means that out of 45,000 roles, black actors in Britain were hired just one-half of one percent of the time. Black people make up about three percent of the population there, according to a 2011 census, compared to about 12 percent in the United States.

The London ads stemmed from the efforts of two groups, the Advocacy Academy and an activist organization, Legally Black. After seeing the images online, another organization, Special Patrol Group, took the lead in scaling them to billboard size and posting them at bus shelters in London’s Brixton community, according to The Guardian.