Wednesday, 19 October 2016

Minority acting opportunities

A frequent complaint of British actors of Afro-Caribbean background is that they have to cross the Atlantic to achieve recognition. But it was not always so. Before the advances in civil rights in the USA in the 1960s and 70s, colour-barred US performers found the atmosphere of Europe more congenial. Paris, London and Scandinavia provided second - in some cases, first - homes to black jazz musicians. Singer and dancer Josephine Baker became a French citizen, the part-Celtic Elisabeth Welch settled in London and Paul Robeson was made welcome in Britain (though not by Special Branch) both between the wars and in his later stay in Stratford-on-Avon.

Now another example has come my way, thanks to the "Talking Pictures" slots on Bay TV. "All Night Long" (1962) gave a first screen break to Paul Harris, who went on to a twenty-year career on screen and on stage. (Three years earlier, the same director Basil Dearden had made a breakthrough with "Sapphire", a whodunit with a background of race relations. This is also available on "Talking Pictures".)

Contemporary black US actors may feel hard done by. I believe the British actors' success in the States is down to the same qualities as their white counterparts, instilled by our classical training, of technique, versatility and discipline.

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