Young, Black Directors Are Leading A New Wave Of British Films

Photo: Courtesy of Daddy's Girl.
Right now, in 2022, we’re (almost) just as likely to see Black and other ethnic minority actors cast in lavishly costumed period dramas as we are in gritty estate serials, such as Top Boy. This is a long-awaited evolution when it comes to the emerging canon of Black British cinema as we’re now seeing a range of genres, topics and aesthetics receive financing, not everyday stories about struggles and violence in ‘endz’. And although those films have been top-grossing at the Box Office – which shows that many people enjoy them – more range is needed, as it’s really important for audiences to be shown that minoritised people aren’t just the monolithic group that mainstream media has often portrayed us to be.
Back in April, Sky Studios teamed up with Black British film production company DBK Studios for a season of five short films written and directed by the hottest emerging talent. 
The ‘Unearthed Narratives’ collection spotlighted a different aspect of Black British life in a unique and artful style, and viewers were treated to a unique look at the multitudinous lives of Black Brits, from care work, sickle cell anaemia to social media culture, Black masculinity through the lens of a male ballet dancer in the black community, racism in 1950’s England, and the religious culture within London housing estates.
The series, which was released in April, proved just how far the industry has come since the Hood Trilogy; Kidulthood (2006), Adulthood (2008) and Brotherhood (2016), from producer/director Noel Clarke (who has since been accused of sexual assault by a number of women), which glamourised the (often illegal) shenanigans of a group of teenaged Londoners. 
Writer and director Jessica Magaye, 24, from Thamesmead, near London, is an example of the next wave of film writer/directors creating work that depicts Black British life as nuanced and multi-layered; joining Steve McQueen’s Small Axe series – and Michaela Coel’s entire oeuvre – in broadening the cinematic scope of marginalised people on screen.
As part of the Unearthed Narratives collection, the former showrunner for ‘Eleven’ (the production company behind the smash-hit Netflix show Sex Education) wrote the film Daddy’s Girl after working as a freelance script reader and was also present in a few writer's rooms for TV shows in development. Magaye takes some of the dystopian vibes we’ve seen in shows like Humans and Utopia and has injected unmistakable elements of Black British culture. 
After facing mounting bills which have led to an eviction notice, Sade, the protagonist of Daddy’s Girl is a young desperate carer who enters the Influencer Olympics – a game that allows participants around the world a chance at a large cash prize and internet stardom – to try to alleviate the terrible pressure Sade is under in her role as carer for her Dad, who’s suffering from dementia. However, the game soon takes a dark and twisted turn. 
Think Black Mirror from the female lens with the acting chops of Paterson Joseph (Peep Show, Noughts + Crosses) lending his voice to the role of disembodied Influencer Olympics instructor, Saul.
Speaking to Unbothered, Magaye explained why the ‘Unearthed Narratives’ series deserves a closer look.
Unbothered UK: What led you into the film industry?
Jessica Magaye: I’ve always had a love of story and cinema. My best friend and I would always be in the cinema every Saturday to watch the latest film out. And in my final year of uni a friend put me in contact with The Kusp, a hub for creatives. I sent a script I’d written in, and they sent that off to Eleven Film and they loved it. Off the back of reading my script and having a meeting with Joel Wilson (creative director), they offered me a grad role as a runner.
You’ve got a background working in the production team for hit Netflix show Sex Education, what experience did you gain there that has transferred over to your screenwriting and directing?

JM: The amazing thing about the team behind Sex Education is that they’re very, very open to wanting you to learn different facets of production and pre-production and also overall story development. So even though I was just a showrunner, getting people’s coffees and lunches and stuff like that. They’d always say to us “Come like sit in the development meetings”. So I’m always going to be forever grateful to Joe Wilson and Jamie Campbell. Because without them I would have never done any of this.
Photo: Courtesy of Daddy's Girl.
What inspired you to write the screenplay for Daddy’s Girl?

JM: When I was younger people always used to call me ‘Daddy’s Girl’ because we were really, really close and I was always in his pockets. I now help care for my Dad who has got dementia and his condition means that we’re kind of separated. So I wanted to explore what that kind of a relationship is like in a film because I don’t think I’ve seen that kind of relationship between a dad and his daughter on screen before.
Right now, we’re experiencing an emerging canon of Black British cinema, how does it feel to be part of this?
JM: In the past five years I’ve really noticed that a variety of our stories are being told on screen. In the past, there’s only been a certain type of story that's been told. And it’s, like, finally the industry’s eyes have been opened to the fact that Black voices out there are telling [our stories]. There's a lot of nuance within Black voices. Like, it’s not everyday gangs, prison or drugs. When we only see those kinds of stories on screen, it kind of makes the rest of the world see us in that way.
This collection of five films that all look at different aspects of the Black experience proves my point.
Your film takes a look at how influencer culture has gripped the imaginations of young people and explores some of its negative consequences? Do you think influencer culture has had an overall positive or negative impact on society? 
JM: I understand why young people influencer culture so much because it can look so glitzy and glamorous – the girls on Instagram all look amazing and the guys have all the cars and the mansions – all that stuff looks so appealing for many of us who are from a socio-economic background that doesn’t include all of that. I guess it’s inspirational to a lot of young people. But then with that comes the downside of it and you have to make a decision about how far you are prepared to go to get this lifestyle.
I have a love-hate relationship with Instagram!
British ‘heavyweight’ actor Paterson Joseph was cast as the disembodied voice of the Influencer Olympics pod, Saul. What was it like working with someone as high profile as Paterson Joseph?
JM: Oh, my goodness, he’s so amazing, just so talented. Working with someone so high profile on my first film, I was thinking “Oh my God, what directions am I gonna give that he’s not heard already?”
But, he initially came in and put me at ease straight away. He understood his character so well. And it was a really collaborative process in the end. 
Anything else that you'd like to add? Please do share!
JM: Shout-out to Steve Askey who did all of the VFX. Amazing work!
Watch all five films from the ‘Unearthed Narratives’ short film collection (Daddy’s Girl, Teju’s Tale, Why Me?, and Fields) on Sky Demand and Now TV.

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