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Black actors overlooked in film casting, finds BFI research

Noel Clarke at the BAFTA Film Awards 2015 Noel Clarke at the BAFTA Film Awards 2015
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More than half of UK films made over the past 10 years do not have black actors in any role, new research claims.

The research also highlights that just 13% of films made in the UK since 2006 have a black actor in a leading role.

Genres most likely to feature black actors in lead roles are crime, science fiction, fantasy and musicals. Types of film less likely to feature a black actor in a lead role are horror, drama, comedy and thrillers.

Conducted by the British Film Institute, the research assessed 1,172 UK films made in the past 10 years.

Just 13%, or 157 films, had at least one black lead, compared with 87%, or 1,015, that did not.

The research suggests that 691 films, or 59%, did not feature a black actor in any credited role.

According to the research, just 15 black actors have played two or more lead roles in films since 2006. Of these, five are women.

Noel Clarke tops the list of British black actors who have played the most lead roles in the UK since 2006, with eight, followed by Ashley Walters, with seven. Naomie Harris comes in third, with Thandie Newton fourth and Idris Elba at number five.

The UK film with the most roles for black actors over the past decade was Selma, released in 2014 and about Martin Luther King. There were 23 lead or named parts for black actors in this production.

BFI creative director Heather Stewart presented the research at the Black Star Symposium at the BFI London Film Festival.

“While 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. 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,” she said.

She added: “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.”

She said the plan was to “champion the collection of accurate and meaningful data that will help the sector understand accurately what is being offered to audiences, and what we need to change”.

Last week, actor and director Kwame Kwei-Armah hit out at the lack of black artistic directors in the UK.

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