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Nadira Amrani: Brother Portrait

Work / Film

“Where’s my community?”: Skin Deep and POC on the need for diversity in the film industry

Film-making has never been so accessible, but take an eye to the rosters of most production companies and you’ll often find a depressing lack of diversity.

Unpicking the reasons why, two online platforms are coming together at the ICA. Visual Cultures: Decoding the Music Video, presented by People of Colours and Skin Deep will showcase four music videos from London’s most promising nascent directors, Raine Allen Miller — one of our 2017 One’s To Watch — Bafic, Akinola Davies Jnr and Stephen Isaac Wilson and discuss how filmmakers of colour are responding to new technologies.

POC, also known as The People Of Colours is a digital collective and online platform that promotes film, virtual reality and interactive media directed and curated by people of colour. Despite having been launched in February of this year, the platform is already making waves with content made by a roster of promising PoC directors. “Instead of tokenistic diversity we’re interested in establishing both a real life and digital community of artists, creating a space which allows for conversation alongside the public showcasing of talent,” British Algerian director, producer and photographer and POC founder Nadira Amrani says.

Skin Deep transitioned from a biannual print magazine — now in its sixth issue — to an online platform in October 2015 “so that stories of people of colour could be told by people of colour,” founder and editor Anu Henriques explains. Much of Skin Deep’s work takes place offline in the form of curating and collaborating on live events including workshops, listening sessions, film screenings and curated discussions.

We caught up with POC’s Nadira and Skin Deep’s Anu to discuss the importance of confronting the endemic lack of diversity in the film industry.

Akinolaint

Akinola Davis: Lion Warrior

Is this the first time you’ve worked together? How did you end up collaborating on the event?

Anu: This is the first time we’ve officially worked with POC, but we’ve been supporting each other’s work for a while now, trying to find a time when the stars aligned so we could make something happen. We’re currently Young Associates at the ICA in London, and at our last event there – Sonic Transmissions presents: Ahnansé – we screened one of Nadira’s music videos, which she directed for Brother Portrait’s piece Seeview / Rearview along with work by Akinola Davies Jnr, Christina Poku and Steph Odu. Since then we’ve been chatting about hosting an event that specifically explored the work of directors and filmmakers of colour, with them in the room.

Nadira: We also recently curated a virtual reality arcade at the Gal-dem V&A takeover in February, and we’re looking forward to more collaborations with other collectives in the future!

  Tell us about your relationship with the four filmmakers.

_Nadira: Some of them I met on the internet and others in real life through the film scene. But in all cases it was the work itself that made me reach out to them. I came to a lot of the work through our twitter call out for submissions. We got sent over 120 pieces of work from PoC identifying directors. I then set up curation circle — including Naomi Berrio-Allen and Eva-Grace Bor — to watch the content and we selected our first six members: Taichi Kimura, Stephen Isaac-Wilson, Lynda Boujeltia, Jaha Browne, Trim Lamba and Akinola Davies Jnr.
Once these films were selected the digital collective was born and we brought it into a real space through our launch event on Valentine’s Day at Richmix.

At Visual Cultures: Decoding the Music Video, we will see the work of Bafic, Akinola Davies Jnr, Stephen Isaac-Wilson and Raine Allen Miller.

The linking of the digital space and physical space is what makes POC so interesting. As a 1990s baby, I grew up watching music videos on MTV base, Top of the Pops and Arabic music channels. Nowadays I spend a scary amount of time on the internet watching content on Vimeo and YouTube. I think maybe film makers like myself who create content for the online have an anticlimactic moment of once it goes online. Where’s my community? I wanted to have more conversations about the work I felt a need to belong to an artist community who also have similar visions. I’m hoping that the POC model will grow as the POC director alumni continue to come to our events and will have the opportunity to curate their own POC events. This music video screening I curated with Anu as I’m from a music video background. We have more virtual reality on the horizon, commercial and short film screenings so watch the space.

Why did you choose to look specifically at music videos rather than commercials or shorts?

Anu: We wanted to look at the music video specifically in order to challenge how we define film traditionally. Filmmakers – especially filmmakers of colour who are working outside of the industry – are responding to new technologies and the changing way we consume information. These filmmakers are telling entire narratives in four minutes, designing intense and striking imagery that blends seamlessly into the artist’s lyrics, sounds and rhythms. They’re making videos with artists of colour, platforming music or ideas that are not often given room in mainstream white spaces, and in this way they open up spaces for conversation around the exclusivity of filmmaking.

Nadira: The genre is rapidly changing and evolving. We thought it would be an amazing chance to talk to the directors and understand where the music video industry is heading, reflecting on recent times, technology development and indie film making. As technology has enabled people to start making their own films, the business structure of the music video industry is bending. Artists such as FKA twigs and The Blaze have shown that musicians can have a much greater influence on how their music is portrayed visually.

Why do you think there is still a pronounced lack of diversity in film?

Anu: There is a pronounced lack of ‘diversity’ in the film industry because those who are seen as the curators of culture, or the gatekeepers of this industry, are generally older, wealthy white men. If these are the people making the decisions, and deciding what gets made and who can make it, they will continue to make work in their own image, work that doesn’t speak to our audiences and doesn’t reflect our stories. Until this changes we will continue to see the same narratives on screen and know the same faces are behind the camera.

Nadira: When we talk about diversity, I think it’s extremely important to have very frank conversations about society in general, a look at history and the clear sociological patterns that create certain gender, race and class bias and privilege. Then have another pain staking stare at the capitalist structure of the industry, take a deep breath and look at restructuring because the talent is there.

What do you think can be done to tackle the issue?

Nadira: Make it cool to take ‘risks’ on PoC directors, encourage investment in talent as it evolves and most importantly pay them for their work! It’s kinda a no-brainer. Commission PoC run production companies. With films such as Get Out making an amazing amount of money in the box office its genuinely in the economic benefit of people like Universal to invest/collaborate. Having said that, there’s an interesting culture within the film industry particularly in London where production companies have a roster majority of white men to allow brands to feel secure and safe, while a crew of diverse creatives come up with brilliant ideas normally involving diversity in front of the camera but not behind it. The majority of adverts made in the UK are directed by white men, however the concepts genuinely come from all sorts of young talented creatives hidden away in offices (many closet directors waiting for their moment). This needs to change.

The first step of tackling the issue is admitting there is an issue. In her acceptance speech at the Emmys, Viola Davis said “the only difference between women of colour and anyone else is opportunity.” So give people of colour the opportunity to direct their own content with a decent budget. This is something POC. is working towards as well as virtual reality. We’re promoting community not charity. The collective over the individual and we’re interested in talent not tokenism. We want to celebrate beautiful work in an inclusive space digitally and physically. The industry is evolving. So come to our events, or find us in the digital space.

Anu: Representation or diversity is a good place to start, but that can’t be the end of the story. Diversity is like the equivalent of a facelift. It changes what’s on the outside, but allows for the internal structures (and the decision makers) to stay the same. Rather than rebranding an establishment through the acquisition of a black or brown hue, we want to create spaces and platforms that actually support and resource these underrepresented demographics in a long-term and meaningful way. Rather than ‘diversifying’ the system, it’s about creating new systems and platforms that are fundamentally anti-racist, anti-capitalist and anti-hegemonic – which is what we’re trying to do!

Skin Deep and POC, along with many other people of colour collectives, have already gained large and dedicated audiences in a very short space of time, which shows there is evidently a real appetite for spaces like this. And as soon as people find them, there’s no going back it seems! We need to find ways to resource collectives, creatives and filmmakers like this and give them long-term support so that we can continue to create our own systems where stories by and about people of colour don’t exist as the token, but as the norm.