David Oyelowo was the keynote speaker at this year’s BFI London Film Festival’s Black Star Symposium – a speech he delivered on Thursday, October 6 at BFI Southbank; a speech that is now available in full online.
Oyelowo launched the Black Star Symposium the morning after the Festival opened with the European Premiere of Amma Asante’s eagerly-anticipated “A United Kingdom,” in which Oyelowo stars, and he was joined by British and international actors, filmmakers and thought-leaders as they explored why opportunities for black actors to shine on screen in the UK and the US remain limited, and what more can be done to affect positive change.
Oyelowo, who also stars in the Festival’s Gala presentation of Mira Nair’s “Queen of Katwe,” said: “I’m really hopeful we’re about to segue from talking about diversity to actually doing it.” And the 30-minute keynote speech he delivered for the Black Star symposium certainly echoed that thought, as he opened his address with the statement, “I’m going to be very honest with you guys here today – I’m really, really, tired of talking about diversity,” emphasizing that, as an artist, he’d rather focus on the work itself of telling stories that reflect the diversity that exists within the audiences who pay to watch.
And I certainly agree with him. As I’ve encouraged on this blog several times over the years, less talk, more action. Conversations about “diversity” in media have been happening since the birth of cinema as an industry that caters to a varied mix of people. It’s old hat. Not that there shouldn’t be room to have these conversations, but as someone who’s been writing about the industry for 6 years, I can say that, in that relatively short period of time, too much lip service has been given to the subject, without the action to match. As the Nike slogan says, just do it! Just get it done!
But Oyelowo’s speech is obviously more in-depth, going beyond his initial seeming dismissal of the apparent requirement of black artists to discuss the subject of diversity, whenever they sit down for interviews, for example. And it’s an address worth listening to, in order get the full scope of his message. So watch the entire keynote speech below!
The LFF Black Star Symposium heralds the UK’s biggest celebration of black screen actors and the BFI’s cultural focus for 2016 – BFI Black Star – launching immediately after the Festival and celebrating the achievements of black actors from the earliest years of cinema through to current icons.
Following David Oyelowo’s opening address, guest filmmakers and film industry leaders took part in two panel discussions, including on the opportunities available to, and the obstacles faced by, black actors in the US and the UK; the types of roles and the kinds of stories being told; the politics vs. the reality of ‘color-blind’ casting; and the differences between the film and TV sectors in the respective territories, and more.
Also participating in the Symposium are: London-born writer and director Amma Asante, whose film “A United Kingdom” starring David Oyelowo and Rosamund Pike had its European Premiere as the Festival’s Opening Gala; Actor, producer and director Noel Clarke, one of the UK’s leading stars of British film and television production; Julie Dash, whose “Daughters of the Dust” (1991) is being presented at the LFF (a new restoration of the film) in association with Mobo Film; Barry Jenkins, writer and director of “Moonlight,” which screened in Official Competition at the LFF; Karen Blackett OBE (Chairwoman, MediaCom UK) who has been instrumental not only in the success of MediaCom, the largest media agency in the UK, but in championing diversity throughout the advertising and media industry and recently was named as one of the Evening Standards Progress 1000, London’s most influential people of 2015; Ramy El-Bergamy (On-Screen Diversity Executive, Channel 4), who has worked in the independent television across a broad range of programs and genres, and is focusing on ensuring the best people are being recruited onscreen for Channel 4 programs from the widest possible pool across all genres; Ben Roberts, the BFI’s Director of the Film Fund which has supported films including “A United Kingdom,” “Belle” and “Half Of A Yellow Sun;” and Heather Stewart, Creative Director of the BFI who sponsored the Black Star program and the accompanying research project.
Without further ado, below, watch David Oyelowo’s full speech on the ongoing issue of diversity in the film industry, at the BFI Black Star Symposium: