Sunday, 11 October 2015

Every Single Word Spoken By a Person of Colour

by Ayesha Gyening

An avid watcher of the hit TV show ‘How To Get Away With Murder’ I was particularly excited about Viola Davis winning the Emmy for best actress in a drama, even more so because she is the first black woman to have won this achievement. However, it was her speech that notably moved me:

 ‘In my mind, I see a line. And over that line, I see green fields and lovely flowers and beautiful white women with their arms stretched out to me, over that line. But I can’t seem to get there no how. I can’t seem to get over that line.’ That was Harriet Tubman in the 1800s. And let me tell you something: The only thing that separates women of colour from anyone else is opportunity. You cannot win an Emmy for roles that are simply not there.’

When I was researching for this article I found a project called, “Every Single Word Spoken by a Person of Colour” in which the creator Dylan Marron (you can find more of his work on youtube) compiled all the lines spoken by people of colour in recent films such as ‘Her’, ‘Lord of the Rings’,‘Harry Potter’ and the recent award winning film Out of the Woods’. Here are some amazing clips that I think everyone, especially those who think racism doesn’t exist anymore (yes there are still people who think this) should watch:

In all seven Harry Potter films the lines spoken by people of colour last only 6 minutes; in the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy, the entire screen time featuring lines spoken by people of colour lasts 47 seconds; in Out of the Woods nothing was said by any person of colour at all.

 It is clear that the problem that Viola Davis highlighted is one that is present throughout the entire film industry, and it highlights the importance of representation. Its not like there aren’t millions of artistic and creative people of colour who would love to direct, act and play these roles. In these critically acclaimed blockbusters, the fact that most of the roles taken by people of colour are often menial roles is also worrying, yet unsurprising.  This is what I meant in my previous article when I mentioned that racism is also perpetuated through the media. 

For many young people of colour it is often hard to find someone who you identify with or can look up to. In the media, being white is still the epitome of beauty – even in fashion shows there is often only one model that is not white and this can lead to many feeling like outsiders for not conforming to white beauty standards. I remember when I was younger, searching in vain for books with a black protagonist, and only finding ‘Noughts and Crosses’ a dystopia where the roles of black and white people are subverted and white people are the ones who are oppressed. Even now, with my current A Level English syllabus, every single text I have studied for the past year has been written by a heterosexual white male. 

Hopefully, by bringing problems like this to attention change can begin to occur – I don’t know how confident I am about this, though! It’s funny how no one realises how people of colour are frequently side-lined in every industry for their white peers until it is deliberately emphasised.  Personally, I would like a coming-of-age movie with black protagonists, or even a chick flick, in addition to being great representation; it would also help to undermine negative and harmful stereotypes about people of colour. Movies like The Breakfast Club (the most boring, overhyped film to ever exist) would have been so much more interesting if they had had people of colour in them instead of just white people whining about their problems (in my opinion, anyway!)


  1. I'm a coloured person and I've had to deal with racism my whole life. It hasn't always been the obvious category of hateful racial slurs but subtle hints that are constantly directed at me. I am lucky enough however, to have many opportunities in my life but I feel as though the remarks have a hold on me. I am passive person by nature and try my hardest not to be fazed by the comments but they do sway me from my goals. You express in your article how the coloured ethnic group are not given enough chances to escape from a world of white superiority but some of these coloured people do get the opportunity to aspire and achieve greater things. With these people, and myself, how is it possible to deal with the racism that is still present, whether subtly or undoubtedly, when given chances that are presented to us?

  2. First and foremost, not every film has to be a rainbow spectrum of every creed, colour, gender, disability etc. Sometimes this is a creative choice and sometimes it is out of convenience (if you're filming in an area where mainly white people live, the chances are most of your extras will be white). How many white people feature in Bollywood films may I ask?

    Secondly you seem to be forgetting the wealth of incredibly successful black (I find the term 'coloured' incredibly outdated) actors that frequently take leading roles in films. The likes of Will Smith, Samuel L Jackson, Wesley Snipes, Morgan Freeman, Dwane Johnson, Cuba Gooding Jr, Kevin Hart, Ice Cube, Idris Elba, Whoopi Goldberg, Zoe Saladana, Halle Berry, Gabourey Sidibe (I could go on) star in hundreds of films going direct to mainstream cinema.

    I find it very unfair to accuse mainstream cinema of racism, as, to add to the long list of black actors and actresses of huge fame, of recent times there have been more films tackling racism in society head on (for example, the civil rights issues raised in 'Straight Outta Compton', or the slavery issue in 'Twelve Years a Slave'). I am by no means denying racism exists, however in mainstream cinema it is not a feature.

    Finally, here is a list of the top ten black 'coming of age' films for your viewing pleasure:

  3. This is a really important issue and it is scandalous that such racism still operates with the system.


Comments with names are more likely to be published.