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ABOUT THIS EPISODE

Are the tides changing and are we all woke? Featuring actor, rapper, writer and activist Riz Ahmed, award-winning film and television producer Alison Owen, Actress, Writer and Director Meera Syal, former television commissioner and activist Farrukh Dhondy and Shadow Home Secretary Diane Abbott.

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TRANSCRIPT

00:00:00There has been somewhat of a revolution on our cultural landscape in recent years This has to be symbolized by the fact that in twenty seventeen the oxford english dictionary added the word woke to its pages hears that definition of woke courtesy of the o e d it's an
00:00:15adjective us informal and it means a lot to injustice in society especially racism in this country in fifteen or twenty years time black man will have the whip hand over the white you're going already white become black wayne immigration from countries revising the british people have voted to
00:01:03leave the european union on the will must be respected this's not racial problems always size that we've got enough to switch into the country and then no more should be allowed in welcome to about race with many at a lodge i've noticed a cycle to the culture of
00:01:32work it pushes the limits on widens the possibilities of our culture by starting out as widespread criticism which is then followed up by ernest action some examples there was hashtag oscars so white led by april reign in twenty sixteen which shook up the film industry Then in early
00:01:53twenty eighteen we were all struck by the cult of black panther which quickly became one of the highest earning films of all time i have no idea of these two facts are related in britain analysis from trade magazine the bookseller found that in twenty sixteen fewer than one
00:02:11hundred of the thousands upon thousands of books published in the uk that year were written by non white british authors In the two years since several u k publishing companies have established initiatives to redress the balance including penguin random house faber and faber and hachette in journalism The
00:02:32first woman editor of the national geographic magazine made an unprecedented move this year when she appointed a historian to critically examine the magazine's coverage of people of color since its inception For decades Our coverage was racist read the headline on apology was made back in britain edward and
00:02:52in four was appointed the first black editor of british vogue news of which was received with much celebration Outgoing editor alexander shulman gave an interview to the guardian which showed her to be painfully ignorant of the issues at hand in the art world Lebanon Hamid won the twenty
00:03:10seventeen turner prize for her work on slavery colonialism and the legacy of racism and the tate modern's exhibition of art in the age of black power was wildly popular Going back to the oxford english dictionary definition Thiss wasel very woke but where is this all coming from I
00:03:32think that popular culture and culture in general is becoming more tuned to those conversations and i think that is because they become hard to ignore particularly on social media on dh the conversation spaces that have been democratized because of social media and the internet theo by militants on
00:03:55believing anybody stopping back to jesus just sitting back We can never envious in turkey and he just found in mom why your round in a boat yank seeds Because people down the home for the sound the actor rapper and activist riz ahmed has enjoyed a career just about
00:04:14long enough to witness this changing culture Known initially for his role in the underground music scene an independent film in the mid two thousands he is now well established in hollywood most notably if you played body rook in rogue one a star wars story we met to discuss
00:04:33how the culture of work has affected well culture at large I think that there's a wave and who knows if it's a wave that will kind of like peter out there is hard for people to ignore and i think people are either having to ride that wave and
00:04:49deal with it or they're getting kind of swept away by its force And i think some of that has to do with you know Democratizing the conversation in popular culture through social media and i think some of it is also quite direct reaction to some of the kind
00:05:03of native ists xenophobic political realities we're facing in law off western democracies postal steri you sound pretty confident that those sort of like conversations and on socially to having a direct impact on what's being commissioned what's making it to our screens i think some of the kind of
00:05:21complacency off the kind of center left liberals that often dominate the creative industries both as creatives and on the business side has been shown to be misplaced That complacency has been challenged by some of the electoral results we've seen you know with brexit or with trump or lots
00:05:45of what's been happening in mainland europe you know the political reality in india right now on dh i think that complacent bubble that kind of delusion though we were slowly heading towards you know this land of milk and honey i think that delusions about bubbles been burst really
00:06:02and because of that i think people are realizing that we won't inevitably drift towards an inclusive and tolerant society necessarily I think this is realization now that we have to kind of show up on dh push things appeal a times to get there there's loads of us in
00:06:22britain who see raise as a british success story he's won an emmy and was also named as one of time magazine's one hundred influential people by hamilton powerhouse lin manuel miranda i wanted to know whether he thinks this is a chicken or egg situation so i'm able to
00:06:42have more of a career because things are changing in the industry on dh as i have more of a career that means that things can change more in the industry and this is just i mean you put up me as an example i don't think my personal success
00:06:56necessarily has any kind of change on the structures or systemic challenges that we face but there are lots of people like me or like you that start doing well in our industry then it does start changing things and it's hard to know what comes first or what needs
00:07:10to come first whether it's kind of a benevolent person who's steeped in privilege who decides to kind of take a risk and back some horses you know j j abrams and kathy kennedy saying hang on a minute let's cost john gregg and daisy ridley a woman and a
00:07:23british nigerian guy whether it's that and the people in privilege kind of need to kind of you know between us you know i said see the table or whether it's like you know certain people just become too good to ignore and actually i think it's often a combination
00:07:38of both all of their seems ostensibly good but have we being here before Mira cyle is a store wart of the british entertainment industry with the decades long career that has comprised of comedy acting writing books and plays on presenting television the list is almost endless on her
00:08:02numerous awards reflect this i asked her if in this moment of woke she was carly experiencing a severe case of deja vu Now the first time i told her it was way back at the vma television festival probably in the mid eighties on there are probably sections of
00:08:25that speech i could get out unread again now so there is an ebb and a flow and we have to that's all you have to be so vigilant and that's why the monitoring of what is happening on television and film industries Of course which let me handle really
00:08:41spearheaded because that monetary stopped for a while and that's where he came in and said you know we've stopped monitoring what's going on and it's got bad i'm here with the new figures we need to start this again It's two steps forward one step back it's really easy
00:08:54to get complacent trying to get the stories that don't tell the narrative that the commissioners want to hear twenty yet they're on is really difficult and that's the next step what does give me a lot of hope is i think a lot of artists like you've just said
00:09:09our understanding that going to the old institutions there is too much to dismantle and too many people to persuade a different way of seeing the world you continue yourself there's a democratization of storytelling going on through the internet through social media such platforms which is changing the way
00:09:28that work is made and i find that quite exciting you know if you build it they will come absolutely they are there it's just that you're not serving them unless you served in all they're going to go to the news platforms zt these all the netflix india's and
00:09:42they're going to abandon you we tried hard to speak to a television or film commissioner for this episode these are the people who determine what we're watching gatekeepers in the strictest sense unfortunately none really wanted to speak to me for an interesting turn of events i meant that
00:10:02i could discuss the issues with a very successful film producer instead alison owen has been in the business for almost thirty years we met in a cafe in west london so do excuse the background noise i would send my best known films ah elizabeth that queen elizabeth that
00:10:22was nominated for an oscar quite way back now you're ninety eight suffered yet saving mr banks with barrels with another summer emma thompson and tom hanks i told you my memories about me before you when she came out last year I'm just giving up to do a film
00:10:39version of catamarans have to build a girl so whatis film production involved it could involve a lot of different things I tend to be pretty much in a two said producer which means that i will generate the films i will i have an idea myself or read a
00:10:55book that i want to make it to the film or read an article or meet a writer Who's got a great idea that i wantto developed with them so i will start by optioning that material raising money or spending my own money on the option and developers script
00:11:10And then one of got script I will put it together with the director getsem cast go rates the money make the film sal it If it's not already sold along the way and make sure it gets the right release into the world gets some cars what does that
00:11:22mean How involved are you in the casting Very involved and then i have to be very involved That's my i'm the conduit Between the director on the creative side on the finances which is the financial side so i straddle both sides I obviously want what's best creatively for
00:11:40the movie I also have to be aware of what's going to work in the marketplace on what's going to raise some money so i will be the person who is maybe encouraging the director to think more commercially about the creative judges and i will be the person encouraging
00:11:55the financier to maybe be a bit more open minded and think imaginatively and try and get to people to me in the middle This interview has come about because your daughter lily alan roundly tweeted both me and the author nick ayers shukla eyes the editor of an anthology
00:12:11named the good immigrant i contribute to and need cash was tweeted and he was saying look at the success of the black panther film look over the success of ready spoke it's just become a bestseller anybody who says that diversity doesn't sell i just want to have a
00:12:25word on i think that was a thinly veiled square on only cash his part lily tweeted us both and she said my mom is a film producer i act so she felt stupid for having ignored this market she said she has tried countless times to get filled two
00:12:40divers in quotes casts slash subject matters off the ground the bigwigs can't relate to slash see themselves in the stories so they never sign off so it's not something i would say and that certainly doesn't represent the many conversations and attempts have had over the years and this
00:12:59is state mirrors It mirrors my efforts to get women on strange it's the same thing I'm pretty much obsessed with female gaze on trying to get that represented on screen properly and that has also obviously has an intersectional aspect to it Instead they wanted to represent ethnic diversity
00:13:17and strange i would say it's certainly become slightly easier on dh I hope that black hands will have smashed a lot of people's preconceived notions and it will be even easier in future But certainly the first time when i made a film with young americans in nineteen ninety
00:13:35that was my first experience of really getting slapped around the face with it when we cast a mixed race girl with white point on dh We had our finance pulled from the movie because wow and they said if we pass tending unit was two straight out of drama
00:13:51school they said if we cast ten d they would pull the money out well and of course we said fuck you were going to cast charity and they didn't pull the money and we had to re finance the movie Well and that was of a lion that at
00:14:04that point interestingly because things ebb and flow over the years and the decades at that point it was an american problem It was american money that we last british money was fine and did not have a problem with it It was the american money that got pulled out
00:14:18and we have to be financed with maybe a pretty much of europe and britain i would say probably america has got better on britain has states sort of the same i would say that but the americans accelerated in its in its relationship with it Often i think it's
00:14:34easier to get things on tv over here i did a project a while ago for small island my son andrea levy's book exactly in which the bbc were very supportive and we had a lot of success with that and it got emmys and whatever that kind of punches
00:14:47is easier for making british television and on american television and that's probably still the case for network television any right differences between the two cultures but problems all along the way out as a producer allison casts as an actor rhys is casted i was interested in his perspective
00:15:06on this issue he said and begin of our interview that you you work a lot in the u s that tells me that the world's in the uk are still knocking for you i think the roles are lacking here but i also think and this is me letting
00:15:19the u k off the hook i think is just so much more of a kind of old boys network here is just so upper middle class and white and push over here i think there are real problems here in terms of who the gatekeepers are and just you
00:15:34know i think it really the issue in the u k is like our idea of who we are as a nation what counts is a story worthy of being told to the nation what is our national story We're in denial about it basically america's in denial about its
00:15:49national story in other ways but our idea of ourselves is lords and ladies running around in bonnets america's idea itself is it's kind of like salad bowl like haven of multiculturalism they're both completely deluded but least america's myth of itself allows for a bit more diversity in popular
00:16:08culture you know except it's a nation of immigrants we're a nation of immigrants as well but we won't accept that you know this is an island nation that's just been constantly and consistently invaded and sailed on inhabited by waves of different people from around the world and if
00:16:20it hadn't been then it wouldn't be the country that is today riz is right britain loves a period drama and historical fiction is hugely powerful in the country's understanding of itself so i put this to film producer alison owen for context i use the musical hamilton as an
00:16:40example of casting that tells a different story they had black actors and actresses playing slave owners yes and that's what was so fantastic in the whole thing on his head i don't know that the world is ready i think you could do that in a movie because it's
00:16:54very it's stylized i think what's hard what i sometimes struggle with in terms of people telling me you've got to do color blind casting i find that hard when you're realizing actual historical moments like if i was remaking the list with first would you be able to cast
00:17:13list but the first as a black woman and just carry on as normal in the film What what's kind of casting like not like literally not just thinking ok who's the best person for the role and it doesn't matter what racial derivation and i suppose to some extent
00:17:27egypt did the same agenda if you were taking the argument to its logical conclusion But i think if you're the truth is also really important to me and i think if you're rendering a historical moment surely you want tio render that's truthfully as possible case in point her
00:17:44twenty fifteen films saw for jet about britain's women's suffrage movement in the early twentieth century i've spent ten years making a movie that i really believed in and thought to make this movie which was probably the first movie made about that subject that was that was with a
00:18:02decent budget with proper cast on it did from testily well in britain on dh it got widely reviled in america because from my point of view from an inaccurate perception that there should have been black women in it now no matter how many times i said it and
00:18:18its q and a's across america but there were no black women in the east end at that time we've endlessly researched it nobody would listen and they everyone got very angry i couldn't understand it and that sandy was the was a friend of mine was the only person
00:18:32you sufficiently explained its mission said allison Oh so why am i picking on may This is a good movie you know i'm a lovely white liberal here what's the problem you fucking problem you know why don't you go pick on some other violent movie again You know that's
00:18:44not so horrible movies out there there's no black people and down to naveed there's no black people in syria everything hold lots of horrible actually is why are you picking on this nice suffragette Maybe and she said look what really makes black women in america angry is that
00:19:01all those things you just said Do you make them angry But what makes the most angry is not being a part of something that they perceive they should have been her parts off and that's where your firm's making them angry and i totally got that when she said
00:19:13that i was like you know what i do you get that on dh i always have to remember that it's not about me you know Okay i'm upset and disappointed about that reception suffragettes but that is a drop in the ocean compared to everything that these people who
00:19:31are feeling that have gone through so me to labor on about my disappointment and resentment about that is i should just shut the fuck up Basically there was some conversation at the time about sofia do lapsing believe the south asian suffragettes who i know because i know woman
00:19:48who wrote the book about her it's with my publishing company what did you make of that conversation What we knew about severe collapsing issue that she was like queen victoria's granddaughter that she was very aristocratic on our film was about working class women we very much there have
00:20:01been certain movies and tv things about the pang curse on dh the sort of upper class suffragette movement but we were very wanted to get away from that kind of criminal in suffragettes on dh really portray them as the gorillas of their day throwing bombs and gang beaten
00:20:18up by the police and we wanted to concentrate on the working class suffragettes said we didn't want to have a queen victoria's granddaughter and she was the only women of color in the suffragette movement were very aris depressing ones and that wasn't what we were portraying that you
00:20:32could make it i think in in hindsight on dh in looking at the importance of see it to beer and recognizing how important it is for women of color to see themselves on screen i would rethink that and i would try and weave in some of those women
00:20:48to be more representative mirror wonders if because of white focus stories things that actually getting worse for british actors of color result archie panjabi i'm in the not gray was in bend it like beckham states do we are obviously address mariane john baptiste was the first british black
00:21:09woman to get an oscar nomination and she couldn't get work here when she went to the states and there she is now thankful why i think sometimes has a feeling like we've done diversity you know we've done that there's lots of different strands to this question actually we're
00:21:23now post diversity we just cast the right person for the job that's excuse often used i suppose the other thing is that the kind of stories that we are put in i think causes a lot of actors to go to america because if the only stories you're offered
00:21:38here is an actor are painted sex abuser or a terrorist or a victim of a violent father in an arranged marriage then you're probably going to look elsewhere if your roles i want to sound too negative because i think there are changes and i can switch on on
00:21:53the soaps are the best that this actually ironically aiken switch on some programs and see the britain i know but then you look at the quality of the role and the kind of narrative that those characters being given on dh that's a whole other question take two examples
00:22:11there's no note there's no new devil's advocate there's no new tough black voice in that sense there's no new desmond's they don't know how to do it they don't know how to do it farouk dondi a british black panther in the nineteen seventies a television commissioner by the
00:22:30nineteen nineties and a sharp critic of british television doubling in race there was however one recent british tv program he did her significant impact on guerilla theater twenty seventeen skyler antics march debated television siri's gorilla profiled the love of two young activists of color fighting racism in nineteen
00:23:02seventies in london being a former black pamper meant the farouk acted as a consultant for the creators of the show and they gave me the script before that and i said heaven i told them this is nothing to do with what we actually did because we never resorted
00:23:19to making a bob or terrorism or anything on dh they said oh you do that i said yeah but that wasn't the mainstream that's breakaway people while doing that it's it's just that there was a kind of a threat of violence And so frieda pinto the best it
00:23:34on my leet ex wife mueller and i said does she will know terrorist on dh he said really we've talked to senses with so and so and she was quite for violence right She was Thank you two policemen Does the right Moloch might have talked like that that
00:23:53you can actually d'oh it's safe Or it was a misrepresentation then of what happened In a sense yes because we want a political movement right before the political movement Black pant A woman saw his race today You know nobody resorted to secret bombings and we want to go
00:24:08public to journals What do you think about the criticisms that came of the show About its thing Go Shouldn't be the theory the razor off black women in particular because i think elizabeth would be well in the guardian saying now i was there and of course the only
00:24:24black woman who was in it was a sex worker in the first program and she wasn't very happy about that elizabeth's beings young lives being stupid because liz was the best friend off moloch my ex wife they were like that inseparable i mean still moloch left liselotte herb
00:24:41which she died four years ago He left around stuff little mollo like that at least bite of thought that maybe healthier should with your present but they were black girls There were like women in the in the show but i don't agree with the fact that they should
00:24:57not have been an asian activist this's what elizabeth o b wrote in the guardian for those of us who were around at the time the role of jazz mitra played by frieda pinto it is quite obviously in recognition of marla sen who was part of the leadership of
00:25:16the black panther movement on a member of the race today collective alongside the late darkness how and fruit dondi who acted his consultants for the siri's for me it was an absolute pleasure to have marlys contribution acknowledged to the role of jazz and i'm interested to see how
00:25:34our character unfolds if nothing else aside from jazz the portrayal of black women in the first episode was unforgivable as they're represented solely by women masako's character kenya a sex worker whose clients include the police officer pence historically women were the backbone of the black movement alfie a
00:25:56jones of the quant barbara bees layla hassan all of morris beverly brian and stella dancy to name but a few and i can only hope this is reflected in future episodes i don't think they realize the continuation of the work that we did i don't think so I
00:26:12think it's a transatlantic entertainment netflix type of program or that's feeling it's more game of truth that desmond culture is never know important in how we perceive the world and i think that's why conversations about accurate media representation and our cultural products books and films and television music
00:26:35theater a media will continue to rage until access to those professions is less exclusive but there's also a convincing argument to be made but suggests that this is all somewhat of a distraction during us away from the hardaway's politics affects our lives diane abbott mp is skeptical of
00:26:55putting too much hope in culture politics is not a consumer activity i wouldn't say they've done ask a woman it but i've never said that in thirty years of political activity go get involved in something there's a tendency for people to think that politics something you consume on
00:27:14there's a tendency which actually goes back to think that a man in a white horse is going to come over the horizon and saber snow was going to say happy we'll save ourselves whereas i wouldn't say everyone has to join the labor party got to join something if
00:27:28you're just going to events of the tate's and going home and feeling reinforced in your ideas about society who does that help How does that change anything When i came into politics the end of the seventies thirty eight clearly cut from politics was a backdrop clearly when i
00:27:46had consumed all of the mon feminist tax female una kate millett i can see it spare really Because you know there's fortunes They wanted to find out about what's happening politically You have to go to a book shop by something So i consumed all of the cultural products
00:28:02emanation feminism i consumed all of their eight is black female writers on this war come angelou toni cade a bar i think she was I read all of that It undoubtedly presented the backdrop to my activism on dh literature on activity Writing on discussion is a necessary backdrop
00:28:30now but the idea that all you have to do listen to a podcast on a town hall near you is going to promote and clear on this side is gonna is gonna promote some poor black it is well over twenty years to the role she should be in
00:28:46there's not necessarily a connection because what the local states on what institutions rely on one is that we don't get involved there along the fact that we don't get involved on the rely on the fact that they can talk the talk look the no one's coming through and
00:29:02saying excuse me how many senior social workers do you have who actually black women is a no love your junior ones are so it's too soon extend the people that come to events are concerned the barrel they i'm relying on the fact that people don't get involved i
00:29:20put these concerns to the actor and activist riz ahmed are we guilty of selling the people who like our work a vision off feeling empowered to feeling represented the isn't actually translating into some sort political change i mean i think it depends whether the reality that your kind
00:29:39of selling people is an escapist reality or is something that engages with are really in order to kind of challenge and stretch it I think often you can have both i mean look at some of that black panther there is a lot of escapism in black panther it's
00:29:54you know fantastical country doesn't really exist the whole reality is kind of like it's a superhero movie and you know actually i think that because it's not ah film that's kind of steeped in social realism it can actually comment on our society and really engage with it in
00:30:11a way that feels quite free actually it's free to do that I think science fiction for example of fantasies always had an ability to do that So again i don't think the two things always mutually exclusive i think the danger isn't so much that we offer people perspectives
00:30:27on the world that are at odds with dominant culture and they're in doing so we're deluding them was selling them a mirage is to help things are i think al political and social reality as shaped by dominant culture is all too obvious to those of us who kind
00:30:41of live with its boo on our neck means any danger that will kind of like forget what our reality is like you know it's great that people can read a book and feel like yes this is speaking for me but like it can't end there No but i
00:30:53think we're not maybe not give people enough credit if we think it does in there i don't think it does in there i think they carry that extra bit of confidence that that looking let's say i don't get used to seeing myself in literature let's say i read
00:31:06a book where someone like me is at the center of the story if i just put that book down and carry on going to work i'm still going to carry that feeling of being you know a hero amount story with me toe work that week i we will
00:31:19just have my experience reaffirmed that may give me a different kind of confidence It may allow me to kind of question some of myself hey oh how i i think of myself as a bit player in my own life I think the effect off our own culture is
00:31:33sometimes quite intangible but on a kind of emotional molecular level i think people carry its impact with them throughout the day throughout their month Throughout the years in terms of like showing up as an activist becoming politically engaged in our society is really really important If you care
00:31:50about changing our society does that mean that any all that doesn't make you stand up and sign up for momentum is a waste of time No of course not it doesn't it affects people in different ways One thing that strikes me as a conflict is that as our
00:32:06culture's recalled more woke formal politics has become increasingly regressive We live in a britain today there is in large part shaped by nigel farraj but we also live in the london off sadiq khan on those things can co exist So do we have cem progress in pop culture
00:32:27and in politics Yes Do we have some real challenges in both of those Still yes absolutely In a way i think those two things can be true at the same time in terms of a lot more directly to question is a more inclusive popular culture bringing out arm
00:32:43or inclusive political reality I think time will tell I think sometimes these things can take a while to filter down but you know you hear things like ok would you have ever had obama without jay z for example which might sound like a kind of facile questions ours
00:32:59But i do think that you know when the generation of young people grows up seeing certain faces and certain people as a normalized presence in the reality and normalizes role models as well i think that that does kind of filtered through to how they see the world how
00:33:16they engage with people in the world and also how they vote Does it solve all our problems No we used to have resistance to that Yes Do we have a really kind of segmented pop cultural landscape where actually you could totally grow up in the nineties and early
00:33:32two thousand's and never have listened to jay z yeah absolutely i grew up i've never listened to the bills i still don't know really any of their music so i think you can have these contradictory things existing at the same time i started this episode wondering if there
00:33:46was a bit of disconnect between woke pop culture on harder political decisions but now i'm convinced it's not a strict either or situation the two influence each other for better or for worse fictionalized versions of current affairs can make or break public empathy towards a situation I don't
00:34:07think my nonfiction book would have had the impact it did in britain without the brexit vote a year before its release on dh In a more extreme example there would be no current president of the united states without a television show I can i sincerely hope that britain
00:34:23doesn't follow in the same footsteps when it comes to the people who were commissioning our culture well the fact that so few wanted to speak to me tells me that they're not yet ready to be held accountable for what they create In the meantime two d i y
00:34:40ng it may be the most surefire way to secure the culture that you want to see this week i want to signal boost seen on radios seeing white siri's it's a really fascinating deep delved into the construction and invention off whiteness in the political sense in the u
00:35:00s the ways that it's been written into their laws who is white and who isn't has been battled out in the supreme court It's absolutely fascinating and i think that you know when it comes to discussing race we're so quick to talk about people who have defied the
00:35:15odds but we never really talk about the odds in the first place and the barriers that they've had to overcome And i think that if you want to really think about whiteness is a political construction and a power structure this is a podcast to start it's really fascinating
00:35:32So it's a big thumbs up from me about race with ed a lodge is written by me it's produced by renee richardson our researcher is raise marino on our research A system is isis thompson original music is by matt city so on artwork is by kevin more risky
00:35:54You can join in the conversation using the hashtag about race with running for transcripts and episodes are available on our website about race podcast This podcast is funded by arts council england

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