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Are black actors fleeing the UK? Part one

GONE ACROSS THE POND: Actress Anniwaa Buachie who has moved from the UK to the US for work

"IT'S ONLY through self-deprecation that one assimilates into America!"

Three American women are in the midst of a frenzied laughing fit as an animated woman with a distinctive Nigerian accent introduces herself to the group. The actress, who is sporting a yellow head wrap and a navy blue gown tessellated with white flowers, is making a guest appearance on an episode of the American comedy series Survivor’s Remorse.

Three years ago, that actress, Anniwaa Buachie never imagined that she would be given an opportunity to expand her artistic talent and land roles in larger productions in the UK; and that’s when she decided to make a move.

The south London-bred actress of Ghanaian descent and youngest of four children explains that overt racism in 1970s Britain disillusioned her father. Despite studying civil engineering at university, out of fear and intimidation, he refrained from pursing his dream of becoming a civil engineer and instead alternated between being a train conductor and a mini cab driver.

At the age of 12, Buachie found herself experiencing the same “bitter” disillusionment when her ballet teacher told her that she would “never be a successful dancer” because she was black. Buachie left the Royal Academy of Dance at 18, but still remains connected to her former hobby by working as a part-time ballet teacher alongside pursing her acting career since moving to Los Angeles in 2014.


PLAYFUL: Actress Anniwaa Buachie during some down-time (left)

In addition to her passion for dancing, Buachie later found that she enjoyed writing practice scripts and plays. It wasn’t until she landed her first acting job in an adaptation of Dilemma of a Ghost by Ghanaian writer Ama Ata Aidoo that she realised that acting was the career path she ardently wanted to pursue.

Buachie believes that not only racism, but elitism is deeply ingrained in British society and as a result, it has impacted on her opportunities as a black female actress in the UK, which was a propelling factor in encouraging her to move to the United States for better opportunities:

“In the three years I have been living here, I have landed leading roles in sitcoms and have almost made it to large-scale TV shows but in all my years of acting in London, I always felt that the rare opportunities were slipping from my fingertips.”

She explains that because of the elitist approach, directors in the UK are always fixated on the qualifications a person holds:

“In America, they just ask you if you look the part and if you are convincing and that’s it.”

Albeit a well-discussed issue, the diversity debate reignited in early 2016 when the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced their nominees for the year, which turned out to consist only of white actors and actresses; the social media hashtag #OscarsSoWhite consequently gained momentum as it began trending on Twitter. This year, #OscarsNotSoWhite has taken over as a result of greater black representation in the nominations list, from actors including hot-favourite British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTAs) and Golden Globe winner Viola Davis, Brit Naomie Harris and Best Actress candidate Ruth Negga to name a few.


AMERICAN DREAM: Brit Actor David Oyelowo is based in the US

In the UK, renowned Nigerian actor David Oyelowo drew attention to the debate in regards to the British film industry at the British Film Institute (BFI) festival in October. He described the phenomenon as a “talent drain” and pleaded for change.

Just like Buachie, David Oyelowo and other black stars such as Idris Elba have shared her struggle of not being able to find success in the UK and have consequently relocated to the United States in an attempt to break through the ‘glass ceiling’ that encapsulates the British film industry.

The 2012 Creative Skillset Employment Census revealed that the proportion of Black and Minority Ethnic (BAME) actors in film productions fell from 12 per cent in 2009 to just five per cent in 2012. A BFI research project revealed that only 13 per cent of UK films had a black actor in a leading role in 2016, suggesting that the topic of representation is indeed a continuous issue.

To read part two, check back tomorrow after 10am GMT.

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