British actor David Oyelowo has said he moved to the US because of the lack of opportunity for black actors in the UK. Speaking at the BFI London Film Festival's Black Star Symposium, the Selma star issued a plea for a more diverse industry. His comments came as British Film Institute research revealed that 59% of UK films in the last decade had no black actors in any role. It also found that 13% of UK films had a black actor in a leading role.
Oyelowo, whose latest film A United Kingdom opened the BFI London Film Festival this week, said the only way to achieve diversity in the UK film industry was if the "demographics of the decision makers changes". He said: "The odd token thrown, the odd bone given is not going to do it. Don't pat yourself on the back because you made that black drama. Bully for you. That's not diversity. It's got to be baked into the foundation of where the ideas flow from." Oyelowo, who now lives in Los Angeles, spoke of acting friends who had visited him from the UK. "We have sat there together, we have prayed together, we have scratched our heads together, we have felt displaced together, we have felt abandoned together," he said. "They are still here. I felt I had to leave. Please stop this talent drain. You have to change the demographics of the people who are making these decisions. You are the curators of culture. You are those who are going to shape the minds of those coming up. If I'd seen a film like A United Kingdom when I was leaving drama school, I don't think I would be living in America now."
Oyelowo's words were echoed by British actor David Harewood, who also moved to the US to seek better opportunities. "It's something we've talked about for many years. The [BFI] data is proving the fears that many of us had that there are structural problems within the industry that are preventing us from displaying aspiration black characters. A whole swathe of black life is not being catered for so we have to go as I am now abroad to find roles where we can play authoritative characters," the Homeland star told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.
Speaking at the premiere of her new movie Moonlight at the London Film Festival, British actress Naomie Harris also said she had to go to the US to further her career. "I definitely think that for my career to have continued I definitely had to go to America and I'm really glad that I did, there is just a lot more material. But I live here, I never left London and I'm able to work here as well as there and I couldn't ask for more," she said. Harris, who plays Moneypenny in the James Bond films, added that she was not surprised by the BFI research. She said: "It's not surprising because that's what we see, we see a lack of diversity. But what I think is really positive is that is changing and I think this year in particular shows that." The BFI London Film Festival runs until 16 October.