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I had to leave UK, says Oyelowo, as lack of film roles for black actors revealed

Published 06/10/2016

Noel Clarke is the black actor who appears in the most British films
Noel Clarke is the black actor who appears in the most British films

Selma star David Oyelowo has admitted he had to leave the UK to find roles as it was revealed almost 60% of British films over the last 10 years failed to cast any black actors.

The BFI (British Film Institute) carried out a survey of black actors in UK films from January 2006 to August this year and found there has been little improvement in the number of roles.

Speaking at the BFI London Film Festival's Black Star Symposium, Oyelowo begged the British film industry to change its demographic.

The actor, who now lives in Los Angeles, said he has had friends visit him in America where they have bemoaned the lack of opportunity.

He said: "We have sat there together, we have prayed together, we have scratched our heads together, we have felt displaced together, we have felt abandoned together.

"They are still here. I felt I had to leave.

"Please stop this talent drain. You have to change the demographics of the people who are making these decisions."

Research found that 59% of UK films had no black actors in any role, while 13% of UK films had a black actor in a leading role.

It also found that black actors were least likely to be cast in drama, horror and comedy genres and appeared more in crime, sci-fi and fantasy films.

Black actors are most likely to be cast in films about slavery, racism, colonialism, crime and gangs, "limiting the range and depth of possible representation", it said.

Oyelowo told the symposium: "If my history, my indisputable British history, has never been visited, where does that put me?

"If we are only going to look at things that need a revisit, you are wiping me out of this country's history."

The study looked at 10 years of releases, totalling 1,172 UK films.

The proportion of UK films which credited at least one black actor in a lead role was 13%, or 157 films.

Noel Clarke is the black actor who appears in the most British films, followed by Ashley Walters, Naomie Harris and Thandie Newton.

Only four black actors feature in the list of the 100 most prolific actors in UK films.

And the BFI said that 50% of all lead roles played by black actors were in just 47 films, representing less than 5% of the total number.

BFI creative director Heather Stewart, who presented the research, said the data showed that black actors were being cast in the same roles.

"Whilst we feel from what we see on screen that most UK films do not cast black actors in them, and that black actors are playing the same types of roles over and again, we now have the data to support this," she said.

"The number of lead roles for black actors has not really changed over 10 years and the types of films in which they have had leading roles suggests stereotyping.

"Colour-blind casting across genres does not really exist on the big screen, ultimately limiting representation.

"Diversity is one of the biggest issues facing film - audiences want to see the world in which we live reflected back at them."

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