Entertainment & Arts

Noel Clarke 'most prolific black actor' in UK film

Noel Clarke Image copyright PA
Image caption Noel Clarke's films include Storage 24 and Brotherhood

Noel Clarke is the most prolific black actor in UK film, according to new research by the British Film Institute.

The BFI figures, revealed on Thursday, looked at the representation of black actors in more than 1,000 UK films over the last decade.

The study found that the number of UK films with roles for black actors had seen little change over that time.

It also showed 59 percent of UK films made in the last 10 years have featured no black actors in lead or named roles.

Kidulthood star Clarke is followed in the list by Ashley Walters, Naomie Harris and Thandie Newton.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Naomie Harris (left) and Thandie Newton are the black actresses with the most lead roles

The data was presented at the London Film Festival's Black Star Symposium, at which British actor David Oyelowo issued a plea for a more diverse industry.

"We will only get to the point when I don't have to give these talks about diversity if we actually start to do diversity," he told an audience of industry figures at BFI Southbank.

"The only way that's going to happen is if the demographic of the decision makers changes."

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Media captionDavid Oyelowo made his appeal at the London Film Festival's Black Star Symposium

Other findings in the BFI research included:

  • 13% of UK films have a black actor in a leading role
  • Only four black actors feature in the list of the 100 most prolific actors
  • Horror, drama and comedy films are least likely to cast black actors
  • Crime, sci-fi and fantasy films are most likely to cast black actors

"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," said BFI creative director Heather Stewart, who presented the research.

"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 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."

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Media captionHeather Stewart, Creative Director BFI, said some of the research was "shocking"

British black actors with the most leading roles in UK films since 2006

  1. Noel Clarke - 8
  2. Ashley Walters - 7
  3. Naomie Harris - 6
  4. Thandie Newton - 5
  5. Idris Elba - 4
  6. Chiwetel Ejiofor - 3

The BFI research looked at 1,172 UK films made and released between January 2006 and August 2016.

Of those, 691 films - 59 percent - did not feature any black actors in either lead or named roles.

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

According to the BFI, one of the most significant observations from the research was the "clustering" of lead roles for black actors within a relatively small number of films.

More than half of all leading roles for black actors are in 47 films, which means that less than five percent have cast a black actor in a lead or named role at all.

UK films with the most roles for black actors since 2006

  • Selma (2014) - about Martin Luther King/civil rights - 23 roles
  • 12 Years a Slave (2013) - slavery - 21 roles
  • Son of Man [aka Jezile] (2006) - religion - 20 roles
  • Half of a Yellow Sun (2012) - Nigerian civil war - 19 roles
  • Baggage Claim (2013) - engagement/weddings - 16 roles
  • Honeytrap (2014) - teenagers/homicide - 16 roles
  • American Gangster (2007) - gangsters - 16 roles
  • It's a Lot (2013) - teenagers - 15 roles
  • 1 Day (2009) - hip-hop - 15 roles
  • Brotherhood (2016) - organised crime - 14 roles
  • Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom (2013) - apartheid/South Africa - 14 roles
  • Fast Girls (2012) - athletics/competition - 13 roles
  • Adulthood (2008) - prisons/crime - 13 roles

Only 15 black actors, five of whom are women, have played two or more lead roles in UK films since 2006.

Noel Clarke's eight leading roles in UK films - such as Adulthood, The Anomaly and Brotherhood, all of which he directed - puts him at the top of the rankings.

Walters follows with seven roles, then Harris with six. Newton follows with five, followed by Idris Elba with four and Chiwetel Ejiofor with three.

'Stop this talent drain'

Oyelowo, whose films A United Kingdom and Queen of Katwe feature at this year's festival, said that his "heart dies a little" whenever he is asked to talk about diversity in interviews.

The actor, whose other films include Selma, Lincoln and Jack Reacher, said he had moved to Los Angeles because of the lack of opportunity in the UK.

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

"You are the curators of culture. You are those who are going to shape the minds of those coming up.

"If I'd seen a film like A United Kingdom when I was leaving drama school, I don't think I would be living in America now."

The BFI London Film Festival runs until 16 October.

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