I was at a Phase One event on Friday, meeting with some like – minded, ambitious, socially conscious, yet friendly group of people. It was a networking event so there was loads of time to eat and get to know people, but there was also a panel. The panel consisted of people who have their own successes in different fields. One of them was Kyla Frye. From what I understood of Kyla, she is a successful actress who has started her own company, with a mission of putting ethnic minorities on the TV and in media in a way that ethnic minority communities can relate to. So this goes beyond the sweeping stereotypes. It is about real characters who are representative of the range of personalities and identities.
Kyla stated her vision and because I had spent some of last week watching Top Boy, it made me think about the rise of what I will call ‘Street Dramas’. Things like Top Boy, Adulthood and Kidulthood have done a great job at highlighting some of the very real social issues among young people and the street/ gang culture prevalent in British society. Note I say British because the gun and knife crime experienced in London, is not exclusive to London. Various cities and smaller towns also have these issues (though some could argue to a more/ lesser degree). Nevertheless I started thinking about the representation of ethnic minority young people that is available to young people. The most prominent is probably that of the street dramas.
Now the problem with this is – can a young person (so 13 – 16), look at the drama critically and understand that the life style portrayed is not to be aspired to? Can the majority of young people see that although a gang is like a family, allegiances switch in a heartbeat. Can the average 13 – 16 year old see that the gang community is a sub culture, one that goes against societies norms and values and because of that, is one that will invite stays in prison, disputes being resolved with a knife or a gun and drugs controlling people’s lives…And that all of this is not an easy ride. I don’t think most young people can. Now I know some of you may be thinking, the parents should be monitoring what the kids watch, but we all know parents monitoring anything these days is a struggle.
So what do we do? I say we, because there is collective responsibility for the communities and society we create. Let me first say that I love programmes like Top Boy and believe in their value and would encourage such dramas to continue to be made. However as Kyla Frye states, we need variety – these cannot be the only dramas where we see ethnic minorities that we can relate to. Yes other dramas do have ethnic minorities in them, but as a community we also need to do more to create media that our young people can watch and engage with, that gives them something to aspire to.
For the budding creatives, writers, directors, actors and actresses…something to think about…