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Prominent black film director awarded honorary degree

DIRECTOR: John Akomfrah

A LEADING Black British director, writer and documentary-maker will be awarded an honorary degree later this month.

John Akomfrah OBE, who recently made a documenary about the late cultural theorist Stuart Hall, will join 6,000 University of Portsmouth students when they graduate on July 22.

The filmmaker - a former governor of the British Film Institute (BFI) will graduate as a Doctor of Letters.

Akomfrah was born in Ghana in 1957 and moved to the UK as a child.

He graduated from Portsmouth Polytechnic with a degree in Sociology in 1982 and four years later made his film debut.

Handsworth Hands (1986) focused on the effects and aftermaths of the civil disturbances in Birmingham in the early 80s. The film won the Grierson Award for Best Documentary in 1987.

Many of his subsequent films have been shown at international film festivals such as Cannes, Toronto and Sundance.

He co-founded London-based media workshop Black Audio Film Collective in 1982 with a few other filmmakers including Avril Johnson and Lina Gopaul.

The workshop was active between 1982 and 1998 and examined issues of Black British identity.

Regarding his critically acclaimed film The Nine Muses (2010) and portrayed immigration in Britain, particularly in the 1950s and 60s with the influx of African and Caribbean nationals, Akomfrah said: "People jump to conclusions and say ‘Oh we've seen it all before', and it's true, they have seen it all before, but the question is, the meaning they ascribe to what they've seen before, is one that I find problematic and I wanted to dislodge that.

"Because these are not just workers coming to save Britain, this is also a narrative about how the hyphen, Black-Britishness, was created, it's about how people were literally altered, psychically, psychologically, physically, by a process of their journey. They left one space and literally it was like going to the moon because they were never the same again."

Apart from filmmaking, Akomfrah is also an established artist.

His artwork has been showcased in museums and galleries such as Centre Pompidou, Paris, Whitechapel Art Gallery, London and Museum of Modern Art, New York.

He has lectured at esteemed institutions including Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Princeton University and Westminster University.

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