Isaac de Bankole dans le film RUN de Philippe Lacôte, copuright Francois-Regairaz

Debate: "The black actor faced with white screens"

Moderated by Wetsi Mpoma, with Kadija Leclere (casting director), Kis Keya (casting director), William Kappoy (actor), Monique Mbeka (scriptwriter, director), Pieter Van Hees (director), Serge Mpatha (D6Bels presenter).

Belgium's second International Festival of African Film took place on 18, 19 and 20 September 2015 in the 'Matonge' quarter of Brussels, the capital's African quarter. In addition to the 20 films on the program, cinephiles and professionals alike were able to attend several topical discussions, notably on "the black actor absent from white screens", and on the subject of African film-making with "Nollywood, its heirs and its cousin".

As far as the theme "The black actor faced with white screens" is concerned, the following observation opens the debate: that of the invisibility of non-white actors and actresses on European screens. Despite the reality of our melting pot society, the media seem to obtain their characters from a parallel universe, not reflecting this diversity at all. If a black or Arab actor appears on television, they will probably be relegated to adverts for well-known products (McDonald's, GSM, bank loans), and excluded from the domestic sphere and from all traditional settings. What are the factors affecting this ‘erasing’? Are we facing an example of real state-led racism? How can an entire section of the population be given back the visibility it has been deprived of?

According to Kadija Leclere, the problem arises straightaway on different levels: from the actor to the scriptwriter, the television channels to the various film commissions, there is not enough 'colour' in places of power. You ask yourself whether the introduction of quotas, like in the US, would perhaps be able to unblock the situation. But, as Kis Keya remarks, it would be a forced solution, which would in no way change the desire of directors, of producers, of television channels, to confront this diversity. Moreover, adds William Kappoy, the quota system is set up to reflect the visibility that exists in the social sphere in general: yet, compared to other European countries like France or Holland, black people, for example, are far less present in Belgium in the civil service on the whole: the media's image is therefore nothing but a symptom of an 'erasing' on a greater scale.

Serge Mpatha (RTBF's only black presenter) insists on the fundamentally economic nature of this type of choice on the part of television companies: all decisions are based on the money they will make. Yet, those in power are starting to consider the potential target audience of young people descended from immigrants: the presence of non-white actors on screen is likely to increase because of this factor.

In any case, it is down to the various communities, insist Serge Mpatha and William Kappoy, to change the course of things, not by demanding more visibility, but rather by proposing exemplary projects, by tenaciously engaging themselves in a fresh kind of writing and in new stories, as well as in quality education, which would spark desire for and confidence in the productions: the journeys of Marc Zinga, Babetida Sadjo (nominated for an Ensor in 2015), and Adil Arbi and Bilall Fallah (directors of Black) are proof of it. However, remarks Kis Keya, the question is why there is a requirement for immediate excellence, without any margin of error or possible uncertainty, for some communities to gain visibility, while mediocre projects by white people appear without a problem.

If we are starting to see an evolution for the better in the Belgian media's tendency to erase diversity, there is still a great deal of room for improvement. And everyone, from the scriptwriter to the producer, from the actor to the casting director has a role to play in this change.

Read also: nollywood-its-afro-european-heirs-and-its-congolese-cousin-maboke-film


Photo: Isaac de Bankole in the film RUN by Philippe Lacôte


September 22, 2015
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