Born in the USA

The White House today released Barack Obama's full birth certificate. But will it persuade the "birt

So did Donald Trump win? Or will President Obama manage to draw a line beneath the controversy about his citizenship, once and for all? The White House has just released a copy of Obama's full birth certificate, showing, of course, that he was born in Hawaii and is eligible to be President of the United States.

Minutes later, Obama appeared at the White House podium, declaring the country just didn't have time for such "silliness" - and it was all becoming a distraction from real issues like the economy.

The issue suddenly hit the headlines again after a poll showed that two-thirds of Republican voters believe that Obama was born outside the United States, or say they aren't sure. The fact that it re-emerged at this precise moment was largely due to Donald Trump - who may or may not be considering a presidential bid. He's repeatedly been quoted on the record, asking for that full birth certificate to be revealed.

The GOP's party's Presidential hopefuls have already been forced to distance themselves from the false claims by so-called "birthers" - who have been obsessed with challenging the President to produce his full birth certificate and prove where he was born.

There is nothing secret about the document: the official certification released by the authorities in Hawaii shows that Barack Obama was born in the state in 1961 - a fact recorded by local newspapers at the time.

So among the 2012 contenders - Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum have completely rejected the "birther" idea - while Tim Pawlenty said "I'm not one to question the authenticity of Barack Obama's birth certificate".

But not every Republican leader was so unequivocal. House Speaker John Boehner, for example, says that although he does believe Obama is a US citizen - it's not up to him to tell the American people what to think. Huh? Tea Party supporter Michelle Bachman actually had to be shown a copy of the Hawaii certificate by ABC's George Stephanopolous before she admitted she would "take the president at his word".

Yet tune into a right wing talk show and the claims persist - along with other accusations about Obama being a Muslim, educated at a Madrassa and so on. The Hawaii document, originally posted on the Democrats' website during the 2008 campaign - has been dismissed as fake - even though the independent Factcheck.org website confirmed it is authentic. And a new book on the controversy - Jerome Corsis's Where's the Birth Certificate? The Case that Barack Obama is not Eligible to be President has already rocketed to the top spot on Amazon weeks before its publication date.

Arizona's governor, Jan Brewer, has just vetoed one of the many so-called birther bills which are progressing in several states. Louisiana and Indiana are still debating the measures, which would require any presidential candidate to provide proof of their American citizenship in order to be included on that state's ballot.

It has already proved remarkably fruitful for Democrats, who have siezed on the Donald Trump pronouncements to raise funds from their outraged supporters. But isn't it truly astonishing in this day and age that the citizenship of the President of the United States is an issue at all - let alone one that seems to have gained almost mainstream currency? As White House spokesman Robert Gibbs put it, two years ago: "You couldn't sell this script in Hollywood".

Moments after the brith certificate was published today, Trump emerged in New hampshire, taking full credit for the disclosure - and insisting he's proud of himself. "I've accomplished something that nobody else has been able to accomplish", he said, barely able to restrain his glee. But will this really draw a line under the whole affair, as the White House hopes - and consign the doubters to the furthest conspiracy-theory extremes? In his statement today, Obama urged the media to ignore the "sideshows and carnival barkers": with wars in Afghanistan and Libya, oil prices soaring and a huge debate over the deficit, he wants to show the American people that he's the one in charge - and the one taking the country's problems seriously.

Felicity Spector is a deputy programme editor for Channel 4 News.

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Britain's diversity crisis starts with its writers. Here's why

What happens on the casting couch draws the headline, but the problem starts on the page, says James Graham. 

I’m a playwright and screenwriter, which – pertinent to the issues we’ll be discussing in this enquiry – still feels weird to say. I get embarrassed, still, saying that, in a taxi or hairdressers. I don’t know why I still carry that insecurity about saying I’m a writer, but I do, because it sounds like I’m lying, even in my own head.

Obviously I’m completely biased, and probably overstating the influence and importance of my own profession, but I think so many of the problems surrounding lack of representation in the performing arts start with writers.

If we aren’t encouraging and generating writers from certain communities, classes or backgrounds to tell their stories, to write those roles, then there’s not going to be a demand for actors from those communities to play them. For casting agents or drama schools to prioritise getting diverse actors on stage. We need to create those plays and TV dramas –like the ones that I grew up with. I didn’t have any access to much theatre until I was fifteen, but I did have Boys From the Black Stuff, and I did have Cracker, and I did have Band of Gold. I think the loss of those regional producing bodies – Central, Granada – now all completely centralised into London, means that we just tell less of those stories. I remember a TV show called Boon – anyone? – which was set in Nottingham, and I would see on the TV streets I’d walked down, and think, Oh my God, that actor is walking down a street I’ve walked down. That sounds like it’s insignificant. If you’re from a town that is deprived, that feels ignored, it isn’t.

I was very lucky that at my school (which was, at the time, the largest comprehensive school in the country), from the headmaster down to the drama teachers, everyone just believed that working class kids should do plays. Be in plays, read plays, perform plays to the community. Both inside the curriculum of the school day, and outside it – drama teachers dedicating their time to staying behind. Our head of drama identified a group of us who clearly had a passion for it. We weren’t likely thesps. One lad’s entire family were made unemployed when the pit closed. Many lived on the big council estate. My parents and step-parents worked respectively in warehouses, the local council, or as the local window cleaner (incidentally, my first real job. Which I was terrible at).

Our drama teacher was encouraged and determined enough to launch the first ever Drama A-Level in our school. Based on that, about 10 or 12 of us got the confidence – or arrogance – to take our own show to the Edinburgh Festival. We were 16 or 17, and the first people in our community to ever go to visit the festival. We did a play up there, and after that, a psychological unlocking happened, where I thought: maybe I could do a degree in drama (it was the first time I had ever thought to do so) at university (the first in my family to go. Well, joint-first. My twin sister went on the same day, but I walked into my digs first).

I enrolled in drama at Hull University. A high proportion of my peers were middle class. A higher proportion from London or the South East. They talked often about institutions I had never heard of. They were talking about the National Theatre: I didn’t know we had a national theatre that my parents had been paying tax for that I had never been to. Many had performed with the (again, apparently) ‘National’ Youth Theatre, also in London. Paul Roseby, also on this panel, has made such leaps forward in getting the NYT producing in regional venues, and making auditions possible for people across the UK, but unfortunately, at the time, that wasn’t the case for me – and I was the ideal candidate to be in the National Youth Theatre.

I started writing because I had the confidence after I read texts by people like Jim Cartwright, Alan Bennett, John Godber, Alan Ayckbourn: Northern writers, working class writers that made me think it wasn’t just something that other people do.

After returning home, and working at local theatres, I moved down to London. I had to. The major new writing producers are there. All the TV companies are there. The agents are there. I was lucky to find support in a pub fringe theatre – though the economics meant there was no money to commission, so I wrote plays for free for about four years, that would get produced, and reviewed in the national press, while I worked various jobs in the day and slept for a time on a mate's floor. The first person to ever pay to commission me to write a play was Paul Roseby of the National Youth Theatre. I’m now very lucky to be earning a living doing something I love. In a way, compared to actors, or directors, it’s easier for writers who don’t come from a background that can sustain them, financially, in those early years. Your hours can be more flexible. Yes, it was annoying to miss rehearsals because I had a shift in a call centre, but it was still possible to do it. If you’re an actor or director, you’re fully committed. And if you’re doing that for nothing, there starts to be cut-off point for those from backgrounds who can’t.

I’m sure that local and regional theatres are the key to drawing in talent from less privileged backgrounds. But the range of national arts journalism that cover work outside London has been so significantly reduced. In our little echo chamber a few weeks ago, we theatre types talked about Lyn Gardner at the Guardian. Her coverage has been cut, which is very directly going to affect her ability to cover theatre shows outside of London – and so the self-fulfilling cycle of artists leaving their communities to work exclusively in London takes another, inevitable, turn.

I am culpable in this cycle. I have never done a play at the Nottingham Playhouse, my local producing house growing up – why? Because I’ve never submitted one, because I know that it will get less national press attention. So I just open it in London instead. That’s terrible of me. And I should just bite the bullet and say it doesn’t matter about the attention it gets, I should just go and do a story for my community. And if I, and others, started doing that more, maybe they will come.

I also want to blame myself for not contributing back to the state schools that I come from. I really really enjoy going to do writing workshops with kids in schools, but I would say 90 per cent of those that I get invited to are private schools, or boarding schools, or in the South of England. Either because they’re the ones that ask me, because they’re the ones who come and see my shows in London and see me afterwards backstage, or because they have the confidence to email my agent, or they have the budget to pay for my train ticket. Either way, I should do more. It would have helped the younger me so much to meet a real person, from my background, doing what I wanted to do.

I don’t know how to facilitate that. I take inspiration from Act for Change, creating a grassroots organisation. I know that there is a wealth of industry professionals like me who would, if there was a joined-up structure in place that got us out there into less privileged communities, we would on a regular basis go to schools who don’t get to meet industry professionals and don’t unlock that cultural and psychological block that working class kids have that says, that is not for me, that is something that other people do, I would dedicate so much of my time to it. That’s just one idea of hopefully better ones from other people that might come out of this enquiry.

James Graham is a playwright and screenwriter. This piece is adapted from evidence given by James Graham at an inquiry, Acting Up – Breaking the Class Ceiling in the Performing Arts, looking into the problem of a lack of diversity and a class divide in acting in the UK, led by MPs Gloria De Piero and Tracy Brabin.