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Where Is The Love? Why Aren't There More Mixed-Race Relationships On Screen?

22/11/2016 17:07

When I first saw the trailer to A United Kingdom, I felt a prickle on my skin, a gust of affiliation to this story promising to tell the triumph of an interracial relationship. I was bewitched by this film that showed a black man and a white woman in love, something of a given for me growing up in a mixed-race household but rare for my other home as a film programmer and writer - the movies. My normality was about to be in cinemas and it felt revolutionary.

Love stories are the oldest in the book and there's no sign of this going out of fashion. This year's biggest blockbuster is a record breaking romcom - Bridget Jones's Baby, and the greatest story ever told is still Romeo and Juliet. Even the steelier genres tend to have a sizzling romance or a heartbreak in the nooks of the story.

I'll bet you good money you know someone, or are someone, who's dating someone not of their race. Yet can you honestly name five films released in the last three years that have an interracial romance? Why aren't these realities being reflected on screen?

When an overwhelming percentage of film directors are older white men, it's not surprising that the abundance of narratives steer around protagonists that look like them and their fantasies. Thankfully we do have colorblind artists who crave telling a good story and don't need to create cathartic exorcisms of their own anxieties. British author Susan Williams was compelled by the obituary of Ruth Williams - the legal clerk who became royalty when she married the first president of Botswana, Seretse Khama. Williams learned that despite fierce political rebuke from both their families and countries, the couple proved that loved conquered all.

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Susan went on to write Colour Bar: The Triumph of Seretse Khama and His Nation which inspired actor and producer David Oyelowo (Selma) to create A United Kingdom. It's a testament to what happens when you let talented people of colour, and with A United Kingdom - people of colour such as Amma Asante and David Oyelowo who are both in interracial marriages - reveal their reality; they diversify our bland cinema diet.

So why does it matter that you needed Google to find five films with interracial relationships? I happen to believe it's a problem if you never see your story up in lights. Representations of your reality give you a place in the world and a seat at the table. It helps others see your 'otherness' with empathy and in this current political mess of rife xenophobia, it feels suddenly urgent that we learn to understand where each of us are coming from.

When these stories are so far and few between, and when they do make it to screen the romance is often muddied by the politics of their union, it creates an unsavory attitude towards interracial relationships.

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Then and now: Original image of Seretse and Ruth Khama & a still from A United Kingdom with leads Oyelowo and Pike (Image: Fox)

You may watch A United Kingdom, set in the 1940s, and believe these prejudices are old hat. But this month, more than 65 years on, the tabloids have festered on the fact that Prince Harry is dating mixed-race actress Meghan Markle. They've sunk to murky lows with their snarky remarks about her 'wrong side of the tracks' mother (i.e - black and working class), and her 'Almost Straight Outta Compton' upbringing (i.e - she's almost black and was vaguely born near Compton even though she now lives in Canada). This poor treatment of an interracial, interclass relationship between a royal man and his girlfriend with 'exotic DNA' has a fresh stench of stale attitudes.

It's too simplistic to say if we had more mixed-race relationships on screen we'd all be getting merry on the melting pot, but I know when I see my story on screen of growing up in a mixed-race household, being a mixed-race person and in an interracial relationship myself. I feel invited to the party. I feel fed.

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Amma Asante on the set of Belle. (Image: Fox)

In Asante's TED talk, The Power of Defining Yourself, she talks about 'leaning in to your identity, not leaning back', something I feel she's deftly achieved with her work including her previous film Belle about the mixed-race aristocrat from Kenwood House - Dido Elizabeth Belle. Asante presents her imagining of period London, in tandem of how she sees it now - thriving with a cross pollination of cultures despite the political jags.

So the question remains; why are interracial relationships still so far and few between on screen when in reality they are everywhere? As A United Kingdom unearths some much needed hope with its criminally undertold true story, perhaps we could also learn from the lesson of Romeo and Juliet that sees fiction's greatest tragedy at the result of barricading true love.

A United Kingdom stars Rosamund Pike and David Oyelowo and is directed by Amma Asante. It is the inspiring true story between president of Botswana Seretse Khama, and British legal clerk Ruth Williams set in 1940s South London and South Africa. Released in cinemas nationwide Friday 25 November.

Bechdel Test Fest is a London based ongoing celebration of films that celebrate positive representation of women in film. Check site and social for forthcoming events. @BechdelTestFest.

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