True Story – Hollywood loves a Biopic, but where are our Black British ones?
The biopic is back, people. This year, Martin Luther King Jr. (Selma), Stephen Hawking (The Theory of Everything), Vera Brittain (Testament of Youth) and Alan Turing (The Imitation Game) have all received film treatments. Three of these films have already scored nominations for Best Drama Motion Picture in the 2015 Golden Globes – with Black British actor David Oyelowo (Lee Daniels’ The Butler) receiving a nod for his role as Martin Luther King Jr. in Selma – and, according to early predictions, at least two of the films should expect Academy Award nominations next year.
We’ve already had 42 – a well received biopic on Jackie Robinson – we’ve had Mandela and a lackluster Aaliyah from Lifetime, critics and audiences are more hopeful for the upcoming Whitney biopic, I’ve mentioned before that 12 Years a Slave director Steve McQueen is developing a biopic on actor and civil rights activist, Paul Robeson, whilst biopics on Miles Davis, Sam Cooke (“I was born by the river–“) Jesse Owens and Michael Jackson are currently in production or in development.
However, curiously absent from these lists are Black Britons. We had Belle, the beautiful and rich period drama from director, Amma Asante, but other than Belle the lives of historical Black Britons remain absent from the silver screen. So, in the spirit of Christmas (giving etc.) I have compiled a list of several historical Black Britons that, in my personal opinion, are deserving of a biopic or biopic-ish treatment, for any writers, producers or directors out there looking to invest in Hollywood’s latest obsession.
Not much is known about Seaman William Brown – a sailor serving in the Royal Navy at the beginning of the nineteenth century – save for a small mention on the Annual Register in 1815, which describes Seaman William Brown as a ‘female African, who had served as a seaman upwards of eleven years…’ It’s well known that many women enlisted disguised as men, but not many were Black British women.
The truth about Olaudah Equiano’s early life is disputed – he was probably born in Africa in 1745, but its also possible he was born in America – but what he achieved in his later life should be set in stone. A member of the ‘Sons of Africa’, Equiano campaigned alongside members of London’s black community (including Ottobah Cugoano) for the abolishment of slavery in London. He eventually published and released his autobiography (considered the first slave narrative), The Interesting Narrative of Olaudah Equiano in 1789.
Arthur Wharton was England’s first professional footballer with black heritage (his father was Grenadian). He began his career towards the end of nineteenth century, playing for Darlington as an amateur and eventually for Rotherham Town as a professional. Wharton’s contribution to football has finally been commemorated with a statue at the St. George’s Park in Staffordshire. But the man deserves a movie. Think 42, but with football (and better structure.)
So, for anyone stuck for ideas this Christmas holiday, these are three out of the myriads of Black Britons, whose lives deserve to immortalized in film.