More Than Half of British Films Have No Black Actors

David Oyelowo
David Oyelowo poses at the 'Black Star' symposium during the BFI London Film Festival in London, October 6. The actor criticized the British film industry's lack of diversity. JUSTIN TALLIS/AFP/Getty

More than half of British films produced in the last 10 years do not include any black actors in named roles, new research says.

The British Film Institute (BFI) said that 59 percent of U.K. films did not have any roles for black stars, while just 13 percent of films released between January 2006 and August 2016 cast a black actor in a lead role.

The BFI announced its findings as it celebrates black actors, from the U.K. and U.S., in a new season of programming called Black Star.

Of the 1,172 films made and released in the U.K. in the last decade, 691 did not feature any black actors "in either lead or named roles," the BFI said.

The actor/director Noel Clarke was named the most prolific British black actor seen in U.K. films in the eligible time period. The Adulthood star had eight leading roles, followed by Ashley Walters with seven and James Bond actor Naomie Harris with six. Thandie Newton, currently starring in HBO series Westworld, had five lead roles in the last decade. One of Britain's brightest exports, Idris Elba, had four.

"Whilst we feel from what we see on screen that most U.K. films do not cast black actors in them, and that black actors are playing the same types of roles over and again, we now have the data to support this," said the BFI's creative director Heather Stewart. "The number of lead roles for black actors has not really changed over 10 years and the types of films in which they have had leading roles suggests stereotyping. Color-blind casting across genres does not really exist on the big screen, ultimately limiting representation. Diversity is one of the biggest issues facing film—audiences want to see the world in which we live reflected back at them."

At a Black Star season conference as part of London Film Festival on Thursday, Stewart said the BFI "will now champion the collection of accurate and meaningful data that will help the sector understand accurately what is being offered to audiences, and what we need to change."

At the same conference, the British actor David Oyelowo, who appears in both the upcoming Queen of Katwe and A United Kingdom, criticized the U.K. film industry for its lack of representation of minority talent.

"If you are not part of the solution, trust me, my friend, you are part of the problem," he said. "If you look at your companies and half of your staff are not female and a decent percentage of them are not people of color, then you are part of the problem because you need people working for you and you need people in positions of leadership who can exercise their bias and who can exercise their perspective. That is the only way this thing is going to change."