Six emerging Black writers joined the BFI's London Film Festival Critics’ Mentorship scheme this October and covered the festival – in real and virtual life – for major film outlets.
Five of the mentees were based in London – Andrea Arhagba, Whelan Barzey, Flora Spencer Grant, Audrey Owusu-Frempong and Kofi Oteng – and one, Chrystel Oloukoi, watched films online and zoomed in from Lagos in Nigeria, bringing an international perspective. Spencer Grant said: “As well as more writing experience, we all got encouragement and the confidence to navigate these spaces. It’s not just about access, but whether you feel you belong in there.”
The LFF critics’ scheme is now in its third year and was set up to address the lack of diversity among film critics. A survey by the USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative showed that 82 percent of reviews in 2017 were written by white critics, and 77.8 percent by men. In particular, Black voices are poorly represented, and in acknowledgement of the Black Lives Matter movement, only Black critics were asked to apply for the scheme this year.
The critics were mentored by writer and critic Kate Muir, who is also an activist with TIME’S UP UK Writer’s Group, and Akua Gyamfi, founder of The British Blacklist and co-chair of the TIME’S UP UK Women of Colour Group. “It was amazing and really inspiring to work with a new generation of Black critical voices in the film industry,” said Gyamfi.
The critics’ week included attending the premiere of Mangrove and meeting director Steve McQueen for a zoom conversation, and reviewing Regina King’s One Night in Miami. There was also a round table with Kemp Powers, writer and co-director of Disney Pixar’s Soul. The six critics were paired with a media mentor too, from Empire, Sight and Sound, The Evening Standard, Little White Lies, Time Out and Screen. The talented new journalists also spoke to leading UK critics and writers from a wide spread of media outlets as well as getting the perspective of the festival programmers. The pairings with media partner mentors also produced festival coverage.
Mia Farrell, the BFI’s PR manager for festivals, said: “As an African-American woman working at the BFI, I am very proud of the fact that we have done something real and tangible to unlock opportunities for these six emerging critics. The scheme is about honing a craft and getting access to contacts as well as building knowledge and being able to take full advantage of the festival programme in its entirety. Rather than just talking about it, these are actual steps that we are taking to do hands-on work to change the face and fabric of the industry.”