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'Black political film-making works to unfix the 'other' fragmented self in order to construct a new filmic language, to reconstruct black representations in British cinema, be that in narrative, abstract film, documentary or film essay.'

(Isaac Julien, 'Notes on Black British Independent Cinema, The Avant-Garde and Post Modernism' from Aesthetics and Politics, Undercut no 17, Spring 1988.)

Not only are the prejudices and inequalities experienced by the diverse ethnic groups who live in the UK seldom depicted through the mainstream media of television and cinema. Film and video artists from non-white backgrounds have also frequently experienced discrimination when seeking funding or attempting to screen their work. As a result there is little evidence of film-making by black artists from the 1960s and 1970s.

This was to change, as young artists in the 1980s took action to address these racial inequalities and bring greater visibility to black film-making. The objectives of organisations such as Sankofa and the Black Audio Film Collective helped to create a new and independent cinema which reflected the cultural identities and historical roots of black artists living in Britain. A Sankofa founder member, Isaac Julien's Territories is a collage of film and video images depicting black cultural experience in Britain. Its political messages are also offered with the perspective of gay desire, through the image of an embrace between two men, black and white.

Films like Territories and John Akomfrah's Handsworth Songs depict the black experience in Britain through experimental documentary forms. This subjectivity is also to be found in the work of recent artists coming from other ethnic communities. Artists such as Mona Hatoum, Alia and Tanya Syed and Ruth Novacek inscribe the politics of the personal in their films and videos while also addressing problems of race. Ruth Novacek's Rootless Cosmopolitans paints a critical and humorous portrait of London's Jewish community through the eyes of a Jewish girl. Tanya Syed uses ambiguous images of the city to present the lives of Turkish immigrants in London in Salamander.

Harold Offeh and Grace Ndiritu use performance to challenge the often derogatory images that cinema and the media present of people of colour, Offeh re-enacts the gestures of one of cinema's most famous black archetypes, the character of Mammy from Gone with the Wind, whereas Ndiritu draws attention to prevalent Western attitudes to Africa in provocative works such as Desert Storm.

Despite the influential role many of these films have played in giving voice to UK artists of diverse ethnic origin, opportunities for funding and screening Black and Asian film and video in Britain are still limited. Discrimination remains a burning issue.

Still from Territories


Experimental film about black culture.

Still from Rootless Cosmopolitans

Rootless Cosmopolitans

A mother and her wayward daughter, two women on a roof, and a set of wry stories.

Still from Salamander


Projections of desire and place are carved into this nocturnal city.

Still from Ballet Black

Ballet Black

An exploration of the history and attitudes of 'The Ballet Negres', the first all-black dance company in Europe.

Still from Being Mammy, (Mammy's Looks)

Being Mammy, (Mammy's Looks)

Being Mammy is an attempt explore the world of the Mammy caricature and evoke the tragedy of the type cast actor doomed to recreate and replay the same role.

Still from Desert Storm

Desert Storm

Desert Storm shows a haunting image, partially the artist writhing on the floor which turns out to be a world map, covered by a simple piece of cloth.

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