David Oyelowo Decries Lack of Diversity in Film: ‘Don’t Pat Yourself on the Back Because You Made That Black Drama’

A United Kingdom' - Photocall - 60th BFI London Film Festival
David Oyelowo. Photo: John Phillips/Getty Images

While the sun may never have set on the British Empire, that’s a fact rarely reflected in film. Delivering the keynote address at the British Film Institute Southbank Symposium, The Guardian reports that actor David Oyelowo said that he’s “hellbent” on doing more period dramas, because he believes it’s a necessary corrective to the lack of diversity in the U.K. film industry. “People of color have been expunged from Britain’s history. One of the best ways to illustrate how integrated we are historically is to have a piece of entertainment that people can also learn from while they are watching it,” the Selma star said. “That is why I am hellbent on period drama: We need the context so we can build, and then go on to grow.”

Oyelowo, who plays the first president of Botswana Seretse Khama in the film A United Kingdom, also discussed his own attempts to do a biopic of black boxer Bill Richmond as a way to include people of color in period dramas. “If my history has never been visited, where does that put me? You are writing me out of this country’s history — and that’s unacceptable,” Oyelowo said. “As someone of Nigerian descent, as a proud African, as well as a very proud Brit, I know that black people’s history in the U.K. did not start with the Windrush. We have been here for centuries.”

The only way for there to be real, lasting change around these questions of diversity, Oyelowo said, would be if there were more people of color who had the power to green-light films. (“I wanna be in the room where it happens!”) “The only way we are going to get diversity is if the demographics of the decision-makers change,” Oyelowo said. “The odd token bone thrown is not going to do it. Don’t pat yourself on the back because you made that black drama; that’s not diversity. It’s got to be baked into the foundation of where the ideas flow from.”

Oyelowo: People of Color ‘Expunged’ From History