The Story So Far; How we got here…
Choosing Art for A Level was a monumental moment in my life. It started off innocently, with me wanting to make sure I had some classes with a girl I liked at the time. My attempt to spend more time definitely worked out but I ended up falling for someone, something else. I fell in love with creating. I got to know myself through my art. My art taught me who I was. It revealed things I never knew I felt. Those were the days when I realised this old creating thing was a bit of me. God bless those teachers, they taught me art inspires art, that art is pulling the inside out and sharing it. They taught me to look at life and see what speaks to you, what sparks something inside of you, to do, say or make something. Yeah, I think that’s when it really started. Art became the outlet for the thoughts and feelings that live inside of me. It awakened a voice who had a lot to say and soothing came in the sharing. Aaah.
I decided that screen would be the outlet to share my voice. Fast forward a few years and a few weeks after graduating with a degree in Broadcast Media at Brunel University to the offices of my internship, I’ll never forget the day a lady from the sky compliance department came in and said that when there’s a suicide story on TV the suicide rates tend to go up too. She said something like they had the stats and data to prove it. Not sure about everyone else in the room but I was flabbergasted. My first thought was, if that’s true and every time there’s a suicide scene on the TV the suicide rates go up, what happens every time there’s a scene of a black guy as a bad dad, drug dealer or gang member on screen? What happens then? Do those “rates go up” too. More bad dads? More drug dealers? More gang members? Could it really be that simple? That scary, that sinister, that monkey-see-monkey-do? Just to be clear, I am not comparing black people or any people to monkeys, miss me with that madness. It’s just the most apt explanation for what could be occurring.
If it is that simple we storytellers need to be more mindful of the types of stories we put out there and the effect they might have on the people that watch them. It’s mad to me that people can know this stuff and not be more mindful of the shit they show on screen. From that day at my first internship at the Mama Youth Project in Harlesden to the Holborn offices at Mediacom, time after time the world kept showing me the things people put in front of us are really powerful! And with great power comes great responsibility. I think we could all be a bit more responsible. That day I decided I was going to be more responsible. Even if no one else wanted to. I made a promise to myself, a promise to God that I wouldn’t contribute to the madness; that I would not feed those narratives. I would dedicate my work to showcasing and celebrating black talent. Seen as the world seemed so adamant to do the opposite. Someone had to love us. And I was happy, honoured to answer the call. Having this sort of artistic integrity isn’t always the fastest route to financial freedom, especially in today’s world but we move…
Even at Uni, before the black lives matter movement became a thing I understood that it was important for our stories to be told. I mean we matter, so of course our stories matter, not sure why it’s such a struggle for some to grasp but representation, really matters. Pictures are powerful and so are stories. So no, I didn’t want to tell stories about bad black dads, drug dealers or gang members. I was so tired of the stereotypical single story narrative around the black experience, some of us were those things, sure. But we are also so much more. Those stereotypes were like sugary sweet nectar to TV commissioners across the country. But to me it tasted like poison. My palette required something more satisfying. That’s probably why even before the encounter with the lady from sky I had made this as part of my Uni dissertation back in 2013…
…see I been about this life.
Was it too much for me to want to turn on the TV or go to the movies and see someone who reminds me of my mum, my gran, my cousins, people like me? We weren’t bad dads, we weren’t gang members or drug dealers. Where were we? I wanted to see us! I’m still waiting to see it, more of it. More of us. Not the caricatures. The mainstream didn’t (doesn’t?) care about this stuff. I mean if they did I would see it, somewhere. Something more than Desmond’s and the Real Mccoy. I mean 2 staple shows in my entire lifetime? Surely we can do better? Surely there are more stories to tell? It’s not like I’m asking for moondust or a piece of a pyramid, I just want to see myself.
Humans have longed to see themselves since the dawn of time. From the days in caves we have been marking walls, making pictures yet my desire for more of this just didn’t feel welcome anywhere, too niche, too risky, no market for it. Unwanted. If I had a pound for every time I heard it… Anyway, I decided it would be a good idea for black creators, artists, storytellers to have a platform to play, to create, to fail, to try again, to fall, to get back up. We needed that. Shit, we still do!
Something like Trouble TV, but for us! And our stories. Did anyone else love One on One, My Wife and Kids or Moesha as much as me? American or not, without Trouble TV we would’ve been robbed of something that spoke to our experience, our existence even. So I set up House of Black during the time when web series really became a thing here in the UK. The days of Brothers With No Game, Venus Vs Mars, Dear Jesus, Mandem on the Wall. Those days. I created the platform for anyone who might have an appetite for that kind of content. Black. British. Entertainment. For anyone like me who might be yearning to see someone who looked like them look back from the screen. I searched far and wide for the best Black British Filmmakers making work or web series around the Black British experience and housed them all on my platform; dedicated to showcasing and celebrating black British talent. Winning…
It got off to a good start. Started to grow, I had a team of bloggers who would write about updates and achievements in Black British entertainment, things were going well but I quickly learnt two things:
1. No man is an island; you need a strong team to really build and push a platform.
2. I had my own stories I wanted to tell.
I was right, we needed a platform, a channel, dedicated to us, created for us, by us. But as nice as it was to showcase and celebrate everyone else’s work it taught or reminded me that I was an artist too. An artist with something to say. It was screaming at me. It was great that people were making stuff and I rate them for paving the way but if I’m honest it still wasn’t quite the kind of thing I wanted to say, not the sort of stuff I wanted to share with our community, with the world.
Fast forward a few years and a few more media jobs, the website sadly became dormant. Disappointed by the industry, I had lost my motivation but the artist within was still screaming, he still had something to say. Eventually I succumbed and turned my focus towards becoming a storyteller in my own right. This led me to pursue directing. I now consider myself above all, to be an Artist, Creator & Storyteller who is very interested in identity, the black image and experience. I am drawn to untold stories and using my work to showcase unheard voices. This is a main focus of my work. I hope my work will touch hearts, open minds and challenge certain perceptions.
Along the way I’ve worked for some world renowned companies, whether it was, Fremantle Media, Mediacom or the BBC I was learning, acquiring whatever knowledge, experience and expertise I could. As I became more accepting of who I was born to be and what I was born to do, along came opportunities to direct short pieces of theatre and work with some amazing organisations like the National Theatre, the Young Vic, Theatre 503, the Donmar. I’ve also been lucky enough to work abroad, touring a show in America but I’m ready for the next step: me telling more of my own stories. More writing. More directing. More creating. More art and more House of Black. Ready to relaunch that too!
As an audience member myself, when I see stories about black people on stage or screen I am often left feeling pretty rubbish about myself. I hope the work I make has the opposite effect on my audiences, that they might leave feeling uplifted or empowered. I always strive to see the beauty and brilliance in all things and I intend to share some of what I see with audiences.
As an artist I have a desire to find, showcase, celebrate and engage with black British talent as you’ve probably guessed by now representation is really important to me. I want to create more role models, heroes, sheroes, characters – on and off stage and screen – that people like me can look at and see themselves, their loved ones, people they recognise, who feel authentic and familiar, people they may even dare to aspire to be like.
If Ava Duvernay and Ryan Coogler had a love child, it would be me. Stan Lee & Walt Disney would be my Godfathers and Ellen DeGeneres and Oprah Winfrey would be my Godmothers. These are some of my biggest inspirations and if I could emulate even a tenth of what any of them have managed to achieve I will be a very happy man.
My hope for the world is that one day we can all have a better understanding of each other. Which will hopefully lead to better connections, better communities and maybe one day, a better world. I think art has the power to heal. And I hope by creating I can try and contribute to that world healing, and spread more light and love into the world.
Written by: @leiandarell – Leian Darell
Photo credit: @librabear – Wesley Louis
#blacklivesmatter #houseofblack #chooselove