Representing black Britain : black images on British television from 1936 to the present day

Malik, Sarita (1998). Representing black Britain : black images on British television from 1936 to the present day. PhD thesis The Open University.



This thesis examines the history of Black representation on British television from 1936 to the present day. Through archival research, it traces Black people's involvement in British television, both on and off screen. The study involves a detailed review of various debates around the history and future of race and representation on television. It also focuses on various issues related to British race relations, the structure of British broadcasting, television policy and the ideological and social construction of 'race'. Although the project is a historical survey with a social and cultural emphasis, it also considers the future of television images of Blackness within the context of deregulation, globalisation and the move towards a federal Europe. As such, the thesis brings us up to date and intersects with aspects of sociology, cultural and media studies and studies of race and ethnicity.

The project draws, in part, on a number of original interviews conducted by the author with key Black people involved in the British television industry (actors, commissioning editors, producers, academics, film-makers). It also provides a number of detailed case studies of selected television programmes. The genres discussed include documentary, news, comedy, sport, variety, drama and film. The central thesis suggests that the portrayal of Black people on-screen has been marginalised and confined to a narrow repertoire of (stereo)types underpinned by popular assumptions of what 'Blackness' or 'Black-Britishness' constitute. It argues that the programmes in which Black people have appeared, have signified key moments in the 'racialisation' of British society; moments when the presence of 'race' itself has been realised. But it also argues that, far from being passive to these exclusionary and limiting processes, Black people in Britain have actively mounted a series of individual and collective strategic interventions in order to tackle institutional discrimination and gain media representation, employment and access.

The project has been supervised by Professor Stuart Hall (formerly of the Open University's Sociology department) and June Givanni (former Head of the African-Caribbean Unit at the British Film Institute). It draws on, and is an extension of, earlier research conducted as part of the British Film Institute's 'Black and White in Colour' Project in 1992.

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