Looking out of the window of the plane, over the wing and across the fields of white clouds, I can hardly believe I have made it here. Several times I had convinced myself that my scholarship win was a complete fallacy – somehow they had got my details mixed up with the REAL winners – they’d be calling me any day now to retract the offer… or worse: the airline I had used to book my tickets had gone into foreclosure, invalidating all upcoming trips. I suppose my mild paranoia was symptomatic of ‘imposter syndrome’ – when something so rare and extraordinary happens to you, that you live in a constant state of paranoia, expecting someone to catch you out at any minute – “Oi! What are you doing here? You don’t belong here!”… This feeling finally dissipated the first time Chris (my debut scholarship-winning buddy) and I met with Cheryl Clarke, co-ordinator of the scholarship. Her infectious good-humour and genuine delight about our forthcoming year of exploring the television industry as young, aspiring TV executives, cemented the fact I am exactly where I should be, and actually, I have earned it. Through unflappable dedication to paving my career in television, and driving forward the demand for innovation at every opportunity. Everything I’ve worked towards has prepared me for this moment and now I am really in a position to initiate this mission of shaking things up in the industry!
Even on this plane, there is a SEVERE underrepresentation of Black, British talent and stories… and the movies/TV catalogue really is vast. For one reason or another, the Kardashians won’t fail to secure a spot on transatlantic flight channels, even Graham Norton is on here, the Derry Girls, Strictly Come Dancing! But somehow shows that champion home-grown black talent haven’t quite made it onto this selection. Where’s Zeze Mills? Big Narstie? Don’t Hate The Playaz? Even high-budget drama series Bulletproof and Top Boy are missing. Frankly, it’s a shame. Slowly, more opportunities are coming and they are fruitful, but they are few and far between, especially for the rate that exceptional UK talent is arising. There needs to be better spotlights and commercial success for the stars who seek it and deserve it. At least then Americans will stop complaining about the British are coming and taking all the roles written for African Americans…
It all starts with conversations, which I have gauged these next two conferences are all about. My first stop is in Miami, where I’ll be attending the NATPE conference (solo!), then I’m flying over to New Orleans for the last week of the trip, where I’ll be at the Realscreen conference, accompanying the two Managing Directors from the indie production company I work for. Each conference is packed back-to-back with seminars and presentations, opening up the conversations around the future of television, what makes quality viewing, the notion of broadcast vs streaming. I intend to soak it all up, as it’ll be this information which I use to inform the business and pitching decisions I make. Travelling for work is a dream come true and then to rub shoulders with some of the most senior and well-regarded individuals in the business is an opportunity I don’t take lightly. Many of these people – Christophe Fey, Annette Romer, Hayley Babcock, Derren Lawford, John McVey – have so much experience and can really help to paint a complete view of how this industry, across international markets, has been operating. I am hoping that asking them to share their stories with me, will further empower my mission to diversify British programming, both domestically and internationally.
Pioneers for change are essential and I’m trying to find some executives to convert on this trip. The moment when Afrocentric stories stop revolving around a “’hood” narrative is when perceptions of our communities will change. It’s like when the images of starving, impoverished children with flies on their eyes stopped being such as regular display on television. One experience was frequently and widely distributed, which tainted perceptions of what life was like in certain regions of Africa. Now that we know better, we must keep challenging the stories that make it onto mainstream. Rarely do we see different class representations of black communities. Rarely do we see the narratives of black people outside of London. But we know they exist – I was one of them. I’m excited to initiate conversations which highlight the need for less risk-averse executives. Over the next few years, I intend to change the mainstream game, this is just the beginning of my journey.