Legally Black
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Surprised by these movie posters? That’s because Britain is erasing black narratives

Only 0.5 per cent of roles in a decade of British film were played by black actors.

In recent years, a stream of movies such as Hidden Figures, Girls Trip, Get Out and Black Panther, have brought black narratives and black creatives to the forefront of Hollywood.

While these films are paving the way for some truly representative media, however, there is a clear absence of black British stories and narratives in British film and TV today.

British media cannot afford to become complacent and view progress in America as progress in the UK.

Bar the miraculous work of Michaela Coel and Idris Elba – which are the exception, not the rule – the roles we do fill often still adhere to dangerous stereotypes, which perpetuate notions that insist black people can only play slaves, black men are aggressive and criminal, and black women (particularly darkskin black women, because colourism is alive and well) are unattractive or merely “angry black women” unattractive.

This is the reason why four advocates on a fellowship programme called the Advocacy Academy – Liv (that’s me), Bel, Shiden and Kofi – from south London have created Legally Black. We are passionate about tackling underrepresentation and misrepresentation of black people in the media and are calling on the British media to make this change.

Photos: Legally Black

Better representation, for us, includes black Muslims, black LGBTQ+ persons, black people with disabilities, and other people of colour too.

Our first action has been to subvert popular film and TV posters, by replacing the cast with black actors. The campaign is not advocating for the replacement of white actors, or simply the insertion of black actors into white films to fit quotas; we want much more thoughtful work than that to be done.

We’re calling for British media to facilitate the space for black creatives, writers, directors and actors to have agency over their own stories and bring more complex and authentic black characters to life.

We want people to see our posters and question why whiteness is the default and why inclusivity is treated as an addition to this norm.

The British Film Institute (BFI) shows that between 2006 and 2016, among the 1,172 films, “all leading performances for black actors are clustered into only 157 films”, and out of 45,000 roles that were credited to UK actors in that time, only 0.5 per cent were played by black actors.

This becomes even starker when you begin looking at misrepresentation – the films with the most black actors revolve around stereotypical subjects, the top five themes being: Africa/Biopic, Teenagers, Crime, Civil Rights and Slavery.

Contrary to popular belief, there is an audience for films beyond these genres with black leading roles. Get Out grossed just over $252m with a budget of only $4.5m, while Black Panther has already amassed over $1bn in under a month since its release.

That is not an invitation, however, for organisations to allow black films into mainstream media simply to profit from them. It’s an opportunity to give black people agency over their own narratives and to facilitate their existence in all kinds of spaces.

Our posters have been so well-received because media diversification is not a new issue. These statistics, and our posters, affirm the experience of many people who feel they are not properly represented (if at all) on screen.

For every positive response we’ve received, there are still people who believe it is more surprising to see a black superhero or a black wizard than it is to see the laws of nature defied.

There are also still people like the actor Emma Stone who, in an effort to uplift white women – “these four men – and Greta Gerwig” – end up ignoring the intersection of race, homogenising all men and erasing history; Get Out director Jordan Peele became the first ever black man and only the second person of colour to win best original screenplay.

If our posters surprised you, it’s because you’re not seeing enough black actors in leading roles. But if our posters made you enraged or uncomfortable, it’s because you know you benefit from the status quo, and don’t want it changed. But Legally Black isn’t going anywhere, and will continue working towards a time when those posters reflect reality.

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I’ll miss the youthful thrill of Claire’s Accessories – but the tween Mecca refused to grow up

From an adolescent rite of passage to struggling to stay open: how the tackiest shop on the high street lost its shine.

The first day I was allowed to go into “town” (hailing from rural Essex, that’s the local shopping centre, not London) with a friend – unsupervised by a parent – was a real cornerstone of my childhood.

We were 13, and looking back, we had neither mobile phones nor contingency plans, and my mum must have been sat at home for the entire two hours scared shitless, waiting for when she could pick me up again (by the Odeon carpark, 3pm sharp).

Finally free from the constraints of traipsing around department stores bound by the shackles of an adult, my friend and I had the most grown-up afternoon we could imagine; Starbucks Frappuccinos (size: tall – we weren’t made of money), taking pictures on a pink digital camera in the H&M changing rooms, and finally, making a beeline for tween Mecca: Claire’s Accessories.

As a beauty journalist, I’m pretty sure Saturdays spent running amok among the diamante earrings, bow hairbands and fluffy notebooks had an influence on my career path.

I spent hours poring over every rack of clip-on earrings, getting high on the fumes of strawberry lipbalm and the alcohol used to clean freshly pierced toddlers’ ears.

Their slogan, “Where getting ready is half the fun”, still rings true for me ten years on, as I stand on the edge of dancefloors, bored and waiting until my peers are suitably drunk to call it a night, yet revelling in just how great my painstakingly applied false lashes look.

The slogan on a Claire's receipt. Photo: Flickr

On Monday, Claire’s Accessories US filed for bankruptcy, after they were lumbered with insurmountable debts since being taken over by Apollo Global Management in 2007. Many of the US-based stores are closing. While the future of Claire’s in the UK looks uncertain, it may be the next high street retailer – suffering from the surge of online shopping – to follow in Toys R Us’ footsteps.

As much as I hate to say it, this is unsurprising, considering Claire’s commitment to remain the tackiest retailer on the high street.

With the huge rise of interest in beauty from younger age groups – credit where credit’s due, YouTube – Claire’s has remained steadfast in its core belief in taffeta, rhinestone and glitter.

In my local Superdrug (parallel to the Claire’s Accessories, a few doors down from the McDonald’s where we would sit, sans purchase, maxed out after our Lipsmacker and bath bomb-filled jaunt), there are signs plastered all over the new Makeup Revolution concealer stand: “ENQUIRE WITH STAFF FOR STOCK”. A group of young girls nervously designate one among them to do the enquiring.

Such is the popularity of the three-week-old concealer, made infamous by YouTube videos entitled things like “I CANNOT BELIEVE THIS CONCEALER!” and “FULL COVERAGE AND £4!!!”, no stock is on display for fear of shoplifters.

The concealer is cheap, available on the high street, comparable to high-end brands and favoured by popular YouTube “beauty gurus”, giving young girls a portal into “adult life”, with Happy Meal money.

It’s unlikely 13-year-olds even own eye bags large enough to warrant a full coverage concealer, but they’re savvy enough to know that they can now get good quality makeup and accessories, without going any higher than Claire’s price points.

They have naturally outgrown a retailer that refuses to grow with them; it’s simply not sustainable on Claire’s part to sell babyish items to a market who no longer want babyish things.

Adulthood is catching up with this new breed of teenagers faster than ever, and they’ve decided it’s time to put away childish things.

Tweenagers of 2018 won’t miss Claire’s Accessories if it goes. The boarded-up purple signage would leave craters in shopping centre walls soon to be filled with the burgundy sheen of a new Pret.

But I will. Maybe not constantly – it’s not as if Primark has stopped selling jersey dresses, or Topshop their Joni jeans – it’ll be more of a slow burn. I’ll mourn the loss of Claire’s the next time a pang of nostalgia for blue-frosted shadow hits me, or when it’s Halloween eve and I realise I’m bereft of a pair of cat ears. But when the time comes, there’s always Amazon Prime.

Amelia Perrin is a freelance beauty and lifestyle journalist.