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  • Oscar-winning director Steve McQueen to follow up Small Axe with Uprising

    Acclaimed British filmmaker and artist Steven McQueen will re-team with the BBC for a new three-part documentary entitled Uprising. The new series will focus on three major events in 1981 which defined race relations for a generation: the January 1981 New Cross Fire which killed 13 black teenagers; the Black People's Day of Action two months later in March, 20,000 people joined the first organised mass protest by Black British people; and the Brixton riots in April. Events that formed the backdrop to the fourth installment of the Small Axe anthology series, 'Alex Wheatle'. The documentary will reveal how these three events intertwined in 1981 and will be directed by Steve McQueen and James Rogan. McQueen is committed to bringing Black British history to the screen and is also producing two follow-up documentaries that further expand on the series. Black Power: A British Story of Resistance and Subnormal will be directed by two up-and-coming Black British directors - BAFTA winner George Amponsah and Lyttanya Shannon. Small Axe has been nominated for a slew of awards including six BAFTA awards. Steve McQueen, Director and Executive Producer, says: “It is an honour to make these films with testimonials from the survivors, investigators, activists and representatives of the machinery of state. We can only learn if we look at things through the eyes of everyone concerned; the New Cross Fire passed into history as a tragic footnote, but that event and its aftermath can now be seen as momentous events in our nation’s history.” “It has been an honour to work with Steve McQueen to bring these powerful stories to BBC One,” added the BBC1 chief content officer Charlotte Moore, who commissioned the series. “With his visionary genius as a filmmaker he has created an incredibly important and evocative series that charts events that have defined race relations in Britain today, giving a voice to the people at the heart of these stories.” Photo credit: By Ross from hamilton on, Canada - Steve McQueen Q&A, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=90766715

  • UK rapper Stormzy gets a waxwork in Madame Tussauds

    Stormzy has announced he’s the latest celebrity to be immortalised in London’s Madame Tussauds. The UK rapper, who was celebrated his 28th birthday this week, has been working with the London tourist attraction for more than a year to perfect the figure. He attended a number of sitting with Madam Tussauds artists, where hundreds of precise measurements and reference photographs were taken. Seeing his wax copy for the first time, Stormzy can be heard saying: “That’s scary, cuz. Oh my days.” In the video, Stormzy’s young nephew can be seen tugging on the wax figure’s hand, thinking it’s his uncle, and heard saying “Uncle Junior is not moving.” Stormzy then appeared from behind a wall and the little boy exclaimed: ”You scared me! You’ve got two Uncle Juniors!” The musician and this team will continue to work with Madame Tussauds on putting the final touches to the waxwork before it goes on display later this summer. Stormzy said:”I’m proud, and I hope, when my fans see my figure, they feel proud too. “I was told Madame Tussauds London wanted to make a figure of me just after I performed at Glastonbury, and it really felt like the icing on the top of the cake. “Growing up, going to school, we’d go to Madam Tussauds London all the time. “For me to be there, it feels like, flipping heck, I’m going up in the world.” Tim Walters, general manager at Madam Tussauds London, said:”You’d be hard-pressed to find someone that isn’t Stormzy fan. “His chart-topping hits, powerful performances and important work as an activist have spoken to the nation. Whether you admire him for his music, believe in what he stands for, or just think he’s a really nice guy, we know his figure is going to be a fantastic, and important, addition to our Madame Tussauds London line-up.” #MerkyBooks, Stormzy’s imprint within Penguin Random House UK, has also announced a competition for children aged between eight and 16 to win a ticket, with an adult guest, for a special unveiling of the waxwork hosted by the rapper. The event will celebrate the new figure and the first children’s book published by #MerkyBooks, Superheroes: Inspiring Stories Of Secret Strength. To enter, fans can pre-order the Superheroes book from https://uk.bookshop.org/

  • C4 commissons new comedy 'Big Age' pilot for their Black to Front day

    Channel 4 has announced the commission of Big Age, a 1 x 30’ refreshing new comedy pilot written by acclaimed writer Bolu Babalola (Love in Colour) and produced by Tiger Aspect (Man Like Mobeen, Hitmen). The vivacious show will air as part of Channel 4’s Black to Front day on Friday 10 September 2021. Big Age follows a group of four young Black-British friends who are in the ‘big age’ era of their lives. With a backdrop of parental expectation, personal dreams and the crushing reality of maxed out credit cards and with the Nigerian phrase ’at your big age!’ ringing in their ears; it’s a quipped admonition that can be both loving and mocking, both commanding and encouraging - it is about growing up, stretching up, stepping up. Bolu Babalola, the creator of this distinctive and inspiringly funny show, is a British-Nigerian woman with a misleading bachelor's degree in law, a master's degree in American Politics & History from UCL where her thesis was on Beyoncé's "Lemonade"; she was awarded a distinction for it. So essentially, she has a master's degree in Beyoncé. She is the author of the New York Times and Times Best-Selling anthology Love In Colour, and a self-coined "romcomoisseur". Bolu writes stories of dynamic women with distinct voices who love and are loved audaciously. In the pilot, Ronkẹ Adékoluẹjo (Alex Rider, Been So Long) plays our protagonist Ṣadé who has just turned 25, or twenty-thrive – she’s unashamedly ambitious, fierce but has moments of spiralling (yet hilarious) insecurity. Ṣadé dreams of being a writer. Dela is Ṣade’s best friend, played by Racheal Ofori (Sliced, Treadstone) – she’s an artist who prefers to ‘go where her soul flows’ and is a free-spirited, sexually liberated, social justice warrior who would do anything for her friend. She’s also secretly a very middle-class private school kid who never used to “see colour” (something she is secretly deeply ashamed of). Michael Workeye (Brothers, Sitting in Limbo) plays Zeke, Ṣadé’s unrequited love – a slick-talker and player, full of easy charm and charisma. Completing the foursome is Tayo, played by CJ Beckford (I Am Danielle, Sitting in Limbo), the dry humoured grounding force of the group who seemingly has his life on track. Bolu Babalola said: “It is quite literally a dream come true to have the opportunity to bring Big Age to life with Channel 4. It's been a great joy to develop these characters and this world over the years, and I am so thrilled that a place that has housed so many of my favourite shows has chosen to help me share it. Ṣadé is a young woman with big dreams and a big heart, and Big Age is a celebration of friendship, ambition with heart, and the connections that propel us forward in newly formulating adulthood. With great thanks to Tiger Aspect and my wonderful producer and creative partner Amy Annette, I cannot wait for the world to meet (and fall in love with) Ṣadé and the gang.” Fiona McDermott, Head of Comedy, Channel 4 said: “When we first read this script, Ṣadé and Dela just bounced off the page. Funny, contemporary, and surprising characters that have a deliciously moreish, comic energy. We knew we needed to see them come to life. We’re so pleased to be working with Bolu on this, her first scripted project, and beyond thrilled that she and Big Age are part of our Black to Front commitment.” David Simpson, Head of Comedy for Tiger Aspect said: “We’re delighted to be making this pilot for Channel 4. Bolu’s writing is funny, nuanced and wonderfully well observed and she has created a set of characters and a friendship at the heart of this that audiences are going to adore. It is also fantastic to be part of Channel 4's Black to Front event championing Black talent on and off screen. It is so important for broadcasters to make these kinds of meaningful commitments and it has been wonderful to see a cast and crew come together at the heart of this production that are absolutely sensational." Channel 4 will broadcast one complete day of television fronted by Black talent and featuring Black contributors this September. Black to Front will champion Black voices and stories and celebrate the incredible Black talent that make, shape and star in British TV. Black to Front is part of Channel 4’s ongoing commitment as an anti-racist organisation to improve Black representation on and off screen, amplify the conversations around representation and portrayal, and drive long-term change. Black to Front was conceived by commissioning editors Vivienne Molokwu and Shaminder Nahal. It will be led by Deputy Director of Programmes, Kelly Webb-Lamb with Vivienne and Shaminder working across the whole day with Melissa Cousins as Project Coordinator. Head of Creative Diversity Babita Bahal and Director of Commissioning Operations, Emma Hardy are also part of the core team. Big Age will air as part of Black to Front alongside a one-off special of The Big Breakfast fronted by Bafta winning Mo Gilligan and AJ Odudu, a new 4-part reality series Highlife and Countdown, presented by the eminent journalist and broadcaster Sir Trevor McDonald. Additionally, some of Channel 4’s biggest flagship shows will be fronted by Black talent and featuring Black contributors, including Celebrity Gogglebox and Channel 4 News. Hollyoaks will be an hour-long special entirely written, directed and performed by its Black talent. To ensure that Black to Front drives significant and sustainable change within the industry off-screen, Channel 4 is working with The Sir Lenny Henry Centre for Media Diversity to help shape meaningful off-screen commitments to leave a lasting legacy and to ensure we are addressing specific problems in the industry.

  • The Bristol Bus Boycott of 1963

    Bristol in the early 1960s had an estimated 3,000 residents of West Indian origin, some of whom had served in the British military during the Second World War and some who had emigrated to the UK more recently. In common with other British cities, there was widespread racial discrimination in housing and employment at that time against Black and Asian people. Despite a reported labour shortage on the buses. Black and Asian people were only offered employment in lower paid positions in workshops and canteens. Because the Bristol Omnibus Company operated a colour bar that prevented Black and Asian people from working as bus crews. Four young West Indian men, Roy Hackett, Owen Henry, Audley Evans and Prince Brown, formed a campaigning group, later to be called the West Indian Development Council to fight the blatant discrimination. This new West Indian Development Council (WIDC) soon joined forces with Paul Stephenson, Bristol’s first youth officer. Stephenson set up a test case to prove the colour bar existed by arranging an interview with the bus company for Guy Bailey, a well-qualified and well-spoken young man for the role of a bus conductor. But when the bus company realised realised that Bailey was a Black Jamaican, the interview was cancelled, and the boycott began. Taking inspiration from Rosa Parks and the Montgomery Bus Boycott in the US the WIDC organised their own bus boycott. They organised a local press conference and announced their boycott of the Bristol buses on 29th April 1963. the next day, no Caribbeans used the buses. They organised pickets of bus depots and routes, along with blockades and sit-down protests on routes throughout the city centre. There cause was further bolster by Bristol University students who organised a protest march to the bus station and the local headquarters of the local TGWU and they were heckled by passing bus crews according to the local press. Local newspaper, The Bristol Evening Post criticised the TGWU for not countering racism in their own ranks while opposing the apartheid system in South Africa. While former councillor and Alderman Henry Hennessey spoke of collusion between the bus company and the TGWU over the colour bar, and was threatened with expulsion from his local Labour group as a result. The boycott soon attracted national and international attention. An array of big names entered the fray including the left wing MP Fenner Brockway and local Labour MP Tony Benn. The latter, contacted the then Labour Opposition leader Harold Wilson (later Prime Minister), who spoke out against the colour bar at an Anti-Apartheid Movement rally in London. Learie Constantine, the High Commissioner for Trinidad and Tobago, also lent his support the campaign. He wrote letters to the bus company and Stephenson, and spoke out against the colour bar to reporters when he attended the cricket match between the West Indies and Gloucestershire at the County Ground, which took place from 4th to 7th May. The West Indies team refused to publicly support the boycott, saying that sport and politics did not mix. During the game, local members of the Campaign Against Racial Discrimination (CARD) distributed leaflets urging spectators to support the boycott. The local branch of the TGWU refused to meet with a delegation from the West Indian Development Council and an increasingly bitter war of words was fought out in the local media. Ron Nethercott, South West Regional Secretary of the union, persuaded a local Black TGWU member, Bill Smith, to sign a statement which called for quiet negotiation to solve the dispute. It condemned Stephenson for causing potential harm to the city's Black and Asian population. Nethercott launched an attack on Stephenson in the Daily Herald newspaper, calling him dishonest and irresponsible. This led to a libel case in the High Court, which awarded Stephenson damages and costs in December 1963. The union, the city Labour establishment and the Bishop of Bristol, Oliver Stratford Tomkins, ignored Stephenson and tried to work with Bill Smith of the TGWU to resolve the dispute. Meanwhile, Learie Constantine continued to support the campaign, meeting with the Lord Mayor of Bristol, and Frank Cousins, leader of the Transport and General Workers Union. He went to the Bristol Omnibus Company's parent, the Transport Holding Company and persuaded them to send officials to talk with the union. The company chairman told Constantine that racial discrimination was not company policy. Negotiations between the bus company and the union continued for several months until a mass meeting of 500 bus workers agreed on 27 August to end the colour bar. On 28 August 1963, Ian Patey announced that there would be no more discrimination in employing bus crews. It was on the same day that Martin Luther King made his famous "I Have a Dream" speech at the March in Washington. On 17 September, Raghbir Singh, a Sikh, became Bristol's first non-White bus conductor. A few days later two Jamaican and two Pakistani men joined him. In 1965, the UK parliament passed a Race Relations Act, which made 'racial discrimination unlawful in public places'. This was later followed by the Race Relations Act 1968 which extended the provisions to housing and employment. It's clear that the Bristol Bus Boycott paved the way for these Race Relations Acts. Fenner Brockway had tried to introduce a bill to stop racial discrimination several times between 1956 and 1964. But it was the nationwide profile of the Bristol Bus Boycott which helped get Britain's first racial discrimination law to be finally legislated. Without it, Harold Wilson's Labour government would have struggled to get the bill passed. The Boycott showed that racism didn't just exist over there in the States, but in Britain too. The bravery and the steadfastness of these men remained forgotten outside of Bristol until the early 2000s. In 2009, Paul Stephenson, Guy Bailey, and Roy Hackett were awarded OBEs for their part in organizing the boycott. Over a decade later, they were honoured with a plaque in the Bristol Bus station in 2014. In February 2013, Unite, the successor to the Transport and General Workers Union, issued an apology saying their stance at the time was "completely unacceptable".

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