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Across The Pond

Sir Lenny Henry to Present BBC Radio Series on Black Contribution to Arts

There is no question that there has been a struggle for representation of people of color in theatre. It is a challenge that underscores a systematic thought process that says that those who are of color are less talented and less capable. Even as Black culture continues to be appropriated, Blacks themselves still fall victim to systematic racism that seeks to devalue our contributions while simultaneously emulating them. This injustice, however, is not one that is unique to Black Americans. Across the pond, our talented brothers and sisters of color in the arts also continue to struggle with being represented in theatre in a way that is reflective of their numbers in society.

A new radio 10-part documentary series hosted by British comedian, actor and Bluesman Sir Lenny Henry seeks to spotlight the influence of unsung actors of color and their influence in British theatre, television and film. According to Sir Lenny (as he is called in the British Media),

This Radio 4 series covers a huge span of Black British theatre, TV and film – from Ira Aldridge to Steve McQueen and Nina Baden-Semper to Bola Agbaje – it’s a great sweep of history that excites and stimulates the imagination. It is easy to forget that there were precedents to our current age of BAME (Black, Asian and minority ethnic) breakthroughs and by talking to the likes of Roy Williams and Mustapha Matura, we acknowledge that the young reach their current heights by standing on the shoulders of those that went before.

Sir Lenny could very well be considered a part of Black British entertainment royalty. Recently receiving his knighthood from the Queen for his contribution to the arts, he has been in the spotlight since 1975. He first became known for his comedic impersonations and stand-up comedy and has steadily expanded his presence through television, movies, advertisements and voice over work. While many Americans may still remain unfamiliar with his name, he is the co-founder of Comic Relief, a British charity that was created in response to the famine in Ethiopia and raises a large part of its funds through its event “Red Nose Day.” Over the years, in addition to his humanitarian efforts, Sir Lenny has made it a priority to highlight the need for diversity in British entertainment.

The series is a part of the BBC’s On Stage season and is entitled “Raising the Bar.” It will be broadcast on BBC Radio 4 throughout the month of November.

It’s certainly an exciting time for Black people in entertainment, both in America and Britain. As we continue to see the achievements of people of color highlighted, we not only hope but strive for more diversity and acknowledgement across all platforms of entertainment.

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