Posts Tagged ‘Armando Iannucci’

Simon Webb’s Speech to the Traditional Britain Group: A Critique

December 29, 2022

One of the great commenters on this blog asked me the other day if I’d watched Simon Webb’s speech to the Traditional Britain Group, which has been posted up on YouTube. Webb is the man behind History Debunked, in which he criticises, refutes and comments on various historical myths and distortions. Most of these are against Black history, as well as racial politics. Occasionally he also presents his opinions on gay and gender issues. Like other YouTubers and internet commenters, you need to use your own discretion when watching his material. Sometimes, when he cites his sources, he’s right. At other times he’s more probably wrong. As much of his material is against mass immigration, particularly Black and Asian, and he believes that there is a racial hierarchy when it comes to intelligence, there’s some discussion of the man’s political orientation. He’s definitely right-wing, reading the Torygraph and attacking Labour as ‘high spending’. But it’s a question of how right-wing. Some people have suggested he’s English Democrat or supports a similar extreme right fringe party.

The other day he gave a speech at the Traditional Britain Group, which is a particularly nasty set of rightists within the Conservative party. There was a scandal a few years ago, you’ll recall, when Jacob Rees-Mogg turned up at one of their dinners. Mogg claimed he didn’t know how far right they were, but was shown to be somewhat economical with the actualite when someone showed that he’d actually been warned against associating with them. They are fervently against non-White immigration and some of them have a dubious interest in the Nazis and the Third Reich. I’ve also been told that their members include real Nazis and eugenicists, which is all too credible. They also want to privatise the NHS. I found this out after finding myself looking at their message board a few years ago. They were talking about how they needed to privatise the health service, but it would have to be done gradually and covertly because at the moment the masses were too much in favour of it. Which has been Tory policy for decades.

Webb’s speech is about half and hour long, and takes in slavery, White English identity and how Blacks have taken ownership of the subject so that it’s now part of theirs, White guilt over it and the industrial revolution and how White Brits are being made to feel ashamed of imperialism. He also blamed Tony Blair for mass immigration and claimed that it was due to this that the health service was collapsing.

The British Empire

He started off by saying that when he was young, everyone believed that the British Empire was a good thing and that we had brought civilisation to Africa and other parts of the world. I don’t doubt this. He’s older than me, and so I can believe that the received view of the Empire in his time was largely positive. Even the Labour party broadly supported imperialism. Its official stance was that Britain held these countries in trust until they were mature enough for self-government. This has changed, and there is a general feeling, certainly on the left, that it’s something we should be ashamed of. But this has come from historians and activists discussing and revealing the negative aspects of colonialism, such as the genocide and displacement of indigenous peoples, enslavement, forced labour and massacres. The end of empires tend to be particularly bloody, as shown in the various nationalist wars that ended the Ottoman Empire in the Balkans and the French possession of Algeria. Britain fought similar bloody wars and committed atrocities to defend its empire, as shown in the massive overreaction in Kenya to the Mao Mao rebellion. Jeremy Black, in his history of the British Empire, also argues that support for the empire fell away from the 1970s onwards as British youth became far more interested in America. I think the automatic condemnation of British imperialism is wrong and one-sided. It’s also somewhat hypocritical, as the same people condemning the British Empire don’t condemn other brutal imperial regimes like the Ottomans. It’s also being used by various post-colonial regimes to shift attention and blame for their own failings. But all this doesn’t change the fact that some horrific things were done during the Empire, which politicians and historians have to deal with. Hence the shame, although in my view there should be a space for a middle position which condemns the atrocities and celebrates the positive.

Britain and Slavery

He then talks about how slavery is now identified solely with Black transatlantic servitude. But he argues that the White English can also claim slavery as part of their identity. He talks of the first mention of the English in Bede’s Ecclesiastical History of the English People, when pope Gregory the Great saw some English children for sale in the slave market in Rome. Asking who such beautiful children were, he was told they were Angles. At which Gregory punned, ‘Non Anglii, sed angeli’ – ‘Not Angles but angels’. At the time of the Domesday Book 10 per cent of the English population were slaves. And the mob that tore down Colston’s statue in Bristol were unaware that the city had been exported English slaves over a millennium before. These were shipped to the Viking colonies in Ireland – Dublin, Wexford and other towns – from whence they were then trafficked internationally. Slavery existed long before Black transatlantic slavery. The first record we have of it is from 4000 years ago in the form of document from the Middle East recording the sale of slaves and pieces of land. While they weren’t aware of transatlantic slavery at school, they knew slavery existed through studying the Bible. The story of Joseph and his brothers, and the Israelites in Egypt. But slavery has now become identified exclusively with Black slavery and is part of the Black identity. It’s because we’re supposed to feel guilty about slavery and feel sorry for Blacks that Black people over overrepresented in adverts, on television dramas and even historical epics, such as the show about the Tudors where half the actors were Black.

Webb is right about slavery existing from ancient times. There are indeed documents from the ancient near eastern city of Mari in Mesopotamia recording the sale of slaves along with land and other property, as I’ve blogged about here. One of the problems the abolitionists faced was that slavery existed right across the world, and so their opponents argued that it was natural institution. They therefore also claimed that it was consequently unfair and disastrous for the government to abolish it in the British empire. He’s right about Pope Gregory and the English slaves, although the word ‘Angli’ refers to the Angles, one of the Germanic tribes that settled and colonised England with the Saxons and Jutes after the fall of the Roman Empire. Angles in Anglo-Saxon were Englas, hence Engla-land – England, land of the Angles, and Englisc, English. Bristol did indeed export English slave to Ireland. Archbishop Wulfstan preached against it in the 11th century. We were still doing so in 1140, when visiting clergy from France were warned against going for dinner aboard the Irish ships in the harbour. These would lure people aboard with such promises, then slip anchor and take them to Ireland. The Irish Vikings also imported Black slaves. One chronicle reports the appearance of a consignment of blamenn, blue or black men in Old Norse, in Dublin. David Olasuga has also claimed that they imported 200 Blacks into Cumbria. Bristol’s export of White English slaves is mentioned in a display about it in the city’s M Shed Museum, which also contains the statue of Edward Colston. I do agree with Webb that there is a problem with popular attitudes towards slavery. Its presentation is one-sided, so that I don’t think many people are aware of it and its horrors outside the British Empire, nor how White Europeans were also enslaved by the Muslim Barbary pirates. I very strongly believe that this needs to be corrected.

Black Overrepresentation on TV

I don’t think it’s guilt over slavery alone that’s responsible for the large number of Black actors being cast on television, particularly the adverts. I think this is probably also due to commercial marketing, the need to appeal to international audiences and attempts to integrate Blacks by providing images of multiracial Britain. Many adverts are made for an international audience, and I think the use of Blacks has become a sort of visual shorthand for showing that the company commissioning the advert is a nice, anti-racist organisation, keen to sell to people of different colours across the world without prejudice. At home, it’s part of the promotion of diversity. Blacks are, or are perceived, as acutely alienated and persecuted, and so in order to combat racism the media has been keen to include them and present positive images of Black life and achievement. There are organisations dedicated to this task, such as the Creative Diversity Network, as well as systems that grade companies according to how they invest in multicultural enterprises, such as television and programmes with suitably racially diverse casts. Webb has himself talked about this. He’s also stated that Blacks are disproportionately represented on television, constituting only 6 per cent of the population but a very large proportion of actors in TV programmes and adverts. This might simply be because other, larger ethnic groups, such as Asians, aren’t so concerned with entering the entertainment industry and so aren’t represent to the same extent. Hence, Blacks sort of stand in for people of colour as a whole. As for adverts, I’ve also wondered if some of this might be purely commercial – a concern to sale to an emergent, affluent, Black market, perhaps. It also struck me that it might also be a make work programme. As I understand it, there are too many drama graduates for too few roles. This is particularly going to hit Blacks and other ethnic minorities because Britain at the moment is still a White majority country. There have consequently been demands for colour blind casting, as in Armando Iannucci’s recent film version of Oliver Twist. A year or so ago one Black actor announced that there should be more roles for Blacks or else they would go to America. As for the casting of a Black woman as Anne Boleyn, this seems to follow the theatre, where colour blind casting has existed for years. I think it also follows the tacit demand to create an image of the British past that conforms to modern multicultural society rather than how it really was. And some of it, I think, just comes from the feeling that as modern Blacks are as British as their White compatriots, so they should not be excluded from appearing as historical characters who were White. I think these considerations are just as likely, or more likely, to be the causes of the disproportionate number of Blacks appearing on camera than simply pity for them as the victims of slavery.

Blair Not Responsible for Mass Immigration

Now we come to his assertion that Blair was responsible for mass immigration. When he made this declaration, there were shouts, including one of ‘traitor’. I don’t believe that Blair was responsible for it, at least, not in the sense he means. The belief that he was, which is now widespread on the anti-immigrant right, comes from a single civil servant. This official claimed that Blair did so in order to change the ethnic composition of Britain and undermine the Tories. But did he really? This comes from a single individual, and without further corroboration, you can’t be sure. In fact Blair seems to have tried to cut down on immigration, particularly that of non-Whites. In order to dissuade people from coming here, he stopped immigrants from being able to apply for welfare benefits. The food banks now catering to native Brits were originally set up to feed those immigrants, who were no longer eligible for state aid. I also recall David Blunkett stating that they were going to cut down on immigration. The Guardian also accused Blair of racism over immigration. He had cut down on non-White immigration from outside Europe, while allowing White immigration from the EU and its new members in eastern Europe. The right had also been concerned about rising Black and Asian immigration for decades, and in the 1980s Tory papers like the Depress were publishing articles about unassimilable ethnic minorities. This started before Blair, and I don’t think he was deliberately responsible for it.

But I believe he was responsible for it in the sense that many of the migrants come from the countries Blair, Bush, Obama and Sarco destroyed or helped to destroy in the Middle East, such as Libya, Iraq and Syria. Blair had made some kind of deal with Colonel Gaddafy to keep migrants from further south in Libya, rather than crossing the Mediterranean to Europe. This was destroyed when Gaddafy’s regime was overthrown by Islamists. The result has been the enslavement of Black African migrants, and renewed waves of refugees from North Africa fleeing the country’s collapse.

He also stated that the industrial revolution, which was something else that was traditionally a source of pride, is now considered a cause for shame instead. Britain had been its birthplace and given its innovations to the rest of the world. However, we are now expected to be ashamed of it through its connection to slavery. The cotton woven in the Lancashire mills came from the American slave south, while sugar came from the slave colonies of the Caribbean. We’re also supposed to be ashamed of it because it’s the cause of climate change, for which we should pay reparations.

The Industrial Revolution and Climate Change

Okay, I’ve come across the claim that the industrial revolution was financed by profits from the slave trade and that it was based on the processing of slave produced goods. However, this is slightly different from condemning the industrial revolution as a whole. You can lament the fact that slavery was a part of this industrialisation, while celebrating the immense social, technological and industrial progress itself. After all, Marx states in the Communist Manifesto that it has rescued western society from rural idiocy. The demand that Britain should feel ashamed about the industrial revolution because of climate change comes from Greta Thunberg. It is, in my view, monumentally stupid and actually shows an ignorance of history. It’s based on an idealisation of pre-technological societies and an idealisation of rural communities. It’s a product of European romanticism, mixed with contemporary fears for the future of the planet. But the agrarian past was no rural idyll. People in the agricultural societies before the urbanisation of the 19th century had very utilitarian attitudes to the environment. It was a source of resources that could be used and exploited. The nostalgia for an idealised rural past came with the new generation of urban dwellers, who missed what they and their parents had enjoyed in the countryside. And rural life could be extremely hard. If you read economic histories of the Middle Ages and early modern period, famine is an ever present threat. It still was in the 19th century. The Irish potato famine is the probably the best known example in Ireland and Britain, but there were other instances of poverty, destitution and starvation across the UK and Europe. Industrialisation has allowed a far greater concentration of people to live than would have been possible under subsistence agriculture. Yes, I’m aware that overpopulation is a problem, that industrial pollution is harming the environment and contributing to the alarming declining in animal and plant species. But technological and science hopefully offer solutions to these problems as well. And I really don’t want to go back to a subsistence economy in which communities can be devastated by crop failure.

The call for climate reparations, I think, comes from Ed Miliband, and in my view it shows how out of touch and naive he is. I have no problem the Developed World giving aid to some of those countries threatened by climate change, such as the Pacific islands which are threatened with flooding due to the rise in sea levels. But some countries, I believe, are perfectly capable of doing so without western help. One of these is China, which also contributes massively to carbon emissions and which I believe has also called for the payment of climate reparations. China is an emerging economic superpower, and I see no reason why the west should pay for something that it’s doing and has the ability to tackle. I am also very sceptical whether such monies would be used for the purposes they’re donated. Corruption is a massive problem in the Developing World, and various nations have run scams to part First World donors and aid agencies from their money. When I was at the Empire and Commonwealth Museum one of these was a scheme for a hydroelectric dam in Pakistan. The Pakistani government was calling for western aid to finance the project. Britain refused, sensing a scam, for which we were criticised. Other countries happily gave millions, but the dam was never built. All a fraud. I suspect if climate reparations were paid, something similar would also happen with the aid money disappearing into kleptocrats’ pockets. There’s also the problem of where the tax burden for the payment of these reparations would fall. It probably wouldn’t be the rich, who have enjoyed generous tax cuts, but the British working class through indirect taxes. In short, it seems to me to be a colossally naive idea.

But these ideas don’t seem to be widespread. When he announced them, there were shouts from the audience to which Webb responded that it was coming, and they should wait a few years. Perhaps it will, but I’ve seen no enthusiasm or even much mention of them so far. They were mentioned during the COP 27 meeting, and that’s it. Thunberg’s still around, but after all these years I think she’s somewhat passe. At the moment I don’t think these ideas are issues.

Mass Immigration Not the Cause of NHS Crisis

Now let’s examine his statement that it’s due to immigration that the NHS is in the state it’s in. This is, quite simply, wrong. He correctly states that while Britain’s population has grown – London’s has nearly doubled and Leicester’s grown by 30 per cent – there has been no similar provision of medical services. No new hospitals have been built. As a result, where once you could simply walk into your doctor’s and expect to be seen, now you have to book an appointment. And when it comes to hospitals, it’s all the fault of immigrants. He talks about a specific hospital in London, and how the last time he was in that area, he was the only White Brit in the queue. This was because immigrants don’t have GPs, and so go to the hospital for every problem. We also have the problem of sick and disabled people from the developing world coming to the country for the better services we offer. A woman from the Sudan with a special needs child will therefore come here so that her child can have the treatment it wouldn’t get in the Sudan.

I dare say some of this analysis is correct. Britain’s population has grown largely due to immigration. One statistic released by a right-wing group said that immigration was responsible for 80 per cent of population growth. It’s probably correct, as Chambers Cyclopedia stated in its 1987 edition that British birthrates were falling and that it was immigration that was behind the rise in the UK population. I don’t know London at all, and I dare say that many of the immigrants there may well not have had doctors. I can also quite believe that some immigrants do come here for our medical care. There was a case a few weeks ago of a Nigerian woman, who got on a flight to London specifically so that she could have her children in a British hospital. I think this was a case of simple health tourism, which has gone on for years, rather than immigration.

But this overlooks the fact that the problems of the NHS has been down to successive Thatcherite regimes cutting state medical care in Britain all under the pretext of making savings and not raising taxes. Thatcher closed hospital wards. So did Tony Blair, when he wasn’t launching his PFI initiative. This was supposed to build more hospitals, but led to older hospitals being closed and any new hospitals built were smaller, fewer and more expensive. Cameron started off campaigning against hospital closures, and then, once he got his backside in No. 10, carried on with exactly the same policy. Boris Johnson claimed that he was going to build forty hospitals, which was, like nearly everything else the obese buffoon uttered, a flat lie. And Tweezer, Truss and Sunak are doing the same. Doctors surgeries have also suffered. Many of them have been sold off to private chains, which have maximised profits by closing down those surgeries that aren’t profitable. The result is that people have been and are being left without doctors. If you want an explanation why the NHS is in the state it is, blame Thatcher and her heirs, not immigrants.

Conclusion

While Webb has a point about the social and political manipulation of historical issues like the slave trade and the British Empire, these aren’t the reasons for the greater appearance of Black actors and presenters on television. Blair wasn’t responsible for mass immigration, and it’s underfunding and privatisation, not immigration, that’s responsible for the deplorable state of the health service. But he’s speaking to the wrong people there anyway, as the TBG would like to privatise it.

I am not saying it is wrong to discuss these issues, but it is wrong to support a bunch of Nazis like the TBG, who will exploit them to recreate all the social inequality, poverty and deprivation of pre-modern Britain.

Message from We Own It about Their New Website and Campaign Against Channel 4 Privatisation

June 14, 2022

I got this email from anti-privatisation campaign group We Own It informing me about their new website and their continuing campaign against the government’s proposed sell-off of Channel 4.

‘Dear David,

What do Armando Iannucci, the Archbishop of York and Siobhán McSweeney from Derry Girls all have in common?

They’re all taking a stand against Nadine Dorries’ plan to privatise Channel 4.

They’re not the only ones. 27 independent production companies, actor Jon Pointing, comedian Jack Rooke, and the Bishops of Ripon and Leeds are taking a stand too.

They’ve come together today to send a message to the divided Conservative Party: Channel 4 ain’t broke. Don’t fix it. Conserve it.

Thanks to donations from hundreds of you, today we were able to launch an ambitious new campaign which hit the front page of the Yorkshire Post, the Evening Standard, the Independent, the National and local papers across the country.

Check out the beautiful new website and share it to spread the word! We need YOU to make this big launch even bigger! This is a campaign we can win.

Share the new campaign on Twitter

Share on Facebook

Check out the website and forward the link by email to friends and family

THANK YOU so much for showing this government where you stand.

Cat, Alice, Johnbosco, Matthew, Jack and Kate – the We Own It team

PS Thanks so much to everyone who took part in the day of action for the NHS on Saturday. You were all over the press for that campaign as well!’

I very much support this campaign, not least because Bristol is one one of the various cities in which the broadcaster is located. I’m afraid that if the government privatises the station it will have to close down its offices or studios in Bristol and the other towns, and that these local broadcasting industries will be severely damaged. A little while ago I wrote to my local Labour MP, Karin Smyth, to express my fears about the loss of local broadcasting in Bristol. She very kindly wrote back stating that she also was going to oppose Channel 4’s privatisation.

I think the channel has declined in quality since the 1980s and 1990s, but it has been a vital part of British broadcasting and cinema. There have been a stream of British films made either by, or with the participation of Channel 4 films. And when it was first launched in the 1980s, it offered a genuine alternative to mainstream broadcasting. It showed Indian films in a slot entitled ‘All India Goldies’ as well as an adaptation of the Indian national epic, the Mahabharata. It also provided excellent opera coverage, and really did much to bring it to a genuinely popular audience. It also gave Britain the wit and wisdom of the journalist and TV critic, Clive James, who had his own show on a Sunday night. James published a trio of books of his TV criticism, as well as his travel journalism and an autobiography, Unreliable Memoirs. His writing could be hysterically funny, as when he covered the extremely excitable remarks of over-the-top sports commenters. In one of his articles he described how one of the cars broke down or crashed during a race ‘and Murray Walker exploded’. At other times, when discussing the horrors of the Holocaust and the surviving Nazi and Fascist leaders like Albert Speer, Baldur von Schirach and Oswald Mosley, who turned up on British television, he was deadly serious and scathing. As he also was when writing about Stalin’s famine and purges and Mao’s China. He interviewed a number of great personalities on his show, including a very young Victoria Wood and the late, great Peter Cook. For fantasy enthusiasts, there was The Storyteller, a series of tales adapted from folk stories, narrated by John Hurt, with puppet creatures, including the Storyteller’s dog, created and operated by Jim Henson’s Creature Shop. Henson and Frank Oz were the geniuses behind the Muppets. They also made the fantasy movie The Dark Crystal, in which every character is a non-human creature. In the 1990s Henson’s Creature Shop also created the various aliens in the Australian-American SF series Farscape. I am very much afraid that if Channel 4 is privatised, then this history and pool of great broadcasting talent and skills will be permanently lost.

And it will be lost not because there’s anything wrong with Channel 4, but because the Tories’ backers, like one Rupert Murdoch, want British state broadcasting to end so their own cruddy networks can move in and take its place.

Are British Schools Really Teaching Children that Medieval British Rulers Were Black?

February 9, 2022

A day or so ago Simon Webb of History Debunked put up a video discussing the book, Negro Rulers of Medieval Scotland and England, by a Black American writer, Johnson. This claims that various British monarchs in the Middle Ages and early modern periods were really Black, including James I. He believed that this was a product of the prevalence of conspiracy theories in Black American and also Dutch Muslim culture. Conspiracy theories aren’t unique to either of these peoples. He stated that they were the reaction of people, who believe they are powerless. This seems to me to be about right, especially as they are most common in peoples where there is a strong distrust of the government. Black Americans generally suffer more from poverty, crime, unemployment, drugs and alienation than other demographic groups, and have been subject to overt oppression and exploitation. It’s therefore almost to be expected that conspiracy theories should be far more widespread amongst them than in the White population. Way back in the ’90s folklorists documented various rumours and urban legends in the Black community. Some of these erroneously claimed that named fashion designers and clothing firms wouldn’t market their brands to Black. Another was that Coca-Cola was putting chemicals in the water to sterilise young Black men. This was also very much not true, but given their history and treatment, you can well understand how some people could believe it. Webb considered that it was because of this conspiracy culture that some Black Americans were inclined to believe that some medieval British kings were Black. He compared this to an episode in the 1938 Evelyn Waugh novel, Scoop, in which the hero tries to arrange a visa to enter Ethiopia in order to cover the war there. He is told by an official that just about every major historical incident and invention, from the discovery of the circulation of the blood to the defeat of the Germans in the First World War, was due to Africans. Unfortunately, Webb stated, we can no longer laugh at such historical appropriations. White liberals were taking them seriously, and so books like Johnson’s were being taught in schools. This was also the reason why a Black woman had been cast by Channel 5 to play Anne Boleyn.

Now Johnson’s book clearly exists, as Webb showed its cover in his thumbnail and provided a link to its Amazon page. It seems to be the product of the same brand of Afrocentrism that drew on Gerald Massey’s 1881 Book of the Beginnings and David Macritchie’s 1884 Ancient and Modern Britons to claim that the inhabitants of the British Isles were originally Black. And it seems to me quite credible that some schools are teaching Johnson’s book. According to Stephen Howe’s book, Afrocentrism, there were 350 private, ‘afrocentric academies’, teaching 50,000 children in America in 1991. American public schools also have afrocentric curricula and even whole Afrocentric schools in the Black majority districts in Detroit, Baltimore and Milwaukee (see page 3). But I do wonder how many schools over here are teaching it. I don’t doubt that there are many Black activists and teachers that would like to. Last year during Black History Month the local BBC News for Bristol, Points West, discussed calls for Black history to be taught in schools. If I remember correctly, some were already supposed to have done so. But Britain also has a National Curriculum, which I would have thought would have prevented much Afrocentric material, at least of the extreme type, from being taught.

I also don’t know if books like Johnson’s were behind Channel 5’s decision to have Boleyn played by a Black thesp. It seemed far more likely to me that it came from the theatre, where Black actors have been cast in traditional White roles for a long time. I also think it was influenced by Armando Iannucci’s colour-blind film of Dickens that came out a few years ago. The Tudors are a part of the National Curriculum and have been a staple of British historical programming. Producers are always looking for a way to put a fresh angle on something, and following the BLM riots the TV companies were falling over themselves to promote, or be seen to promote, Black talent. Black History Month was set up partly as a way to motivate Black children at school and raise their academic performance. There may therefore be no other explanation for the broadcaster’s choice of actor than an intention to find a way to appeal to a Black audience as well. The only sure way of proving that the decision was based on books like Johnson’s would be if a document emerges from Channel 5 stating this is the case, or, failing that, they were working with a Black group that took the view that Boleyn and other members of the British 16th century nobility were Black. But Webb doesn’t produce any such evidence.

Some Black Americans may therefore be erroneously taught that Anne Boleyn and the rest were Black, but I see no evidence that such counter-knowledge is being taught in British schools just yet.

History Debunked on Diversity Working for Black Representation Against Asians

December 17, 2021

I’ve put up a number of videos from Simon Webb’s History Debunked channel on YouTube. Webb’s an author of a string of history books and a Torygraph-reading right-winger. He specialises in tackling the gross historical distortions and myths that are now being promoted as trustworthy Black history. He’s also, you won’t be surprised to read, an opponent of immigration and affirmative action. I think his videos criticising Black history are largely accurate, though as with anything else on the net you should also check it, and your well advised to take some of his other views with more than a little scepticism. But in the video below he seems to make a good point regarding the over-emphasis on promoting Black film and talent at the expense of other ethnic minorities. It’s shown in the forthcoming Beeb adaptation of Around the World in 80 Days.

Webb argues that Blacks are actually overrepresented in the media compared to their numbers as a percentage of the British population. The total BAME population of Britain is 15 per cent, with Blacks accounting for 3 per cent. But if you look on television or film, you find a much larger proportion of Black actors, performers and presenters and relatively fewer Asian faces. It seems that when it comes to ‘diversity’ and the promotion of non-White talent, in practice this means Blacks. This is shown in the way the Beeb has swapped the races of the leading characters in their version of Jules Verne’s classic yarn. Phileas Fogg remains White, but his servant, Passepartout has been made Black. The love interest is a White woman. But in the book she’s Indian, as apparently having two non-White lead characters would be too much.

It’s a very long time since I read the book, and I can’t remember very much about it, though I’ve got the film version on DVD. Assuming that what he says is right, and the leading lady in the book is Indian, I would have thought that made the story diverse enough without messing around with the other characters. Not so, apparently. Webb speculates that this emphasis on Black talent possibly comes from the TV companies’ need to sell to America, where Blacks constitute a much higher proportion of the population at 13 per cent. I think he has a point. A few months ago a Black actor or director appeared in the I calling for more parts for Black actors otherwise they would leave Britain and go to America. And it certainly seems to me that there are more opportunities for Black actors over the pond. It might also come from Blacks being rather more integrated into the western entertainment business. In America, people were listening to Black music, like Scott Joplin’s Rags since before the Jazz age. Over here, I think the pioneers were the Fisk Jubilee Singers, Americans who made a tour of Britain before the Second World War. And White Brits also listened to Caribbean calypsos before the emergence of Rock and Roll and such great performers as Little Richard, James Brown, Motown and so on. Despite the claims of racism in the music industry, which led to the establishment of the MOBOs as a set of separate music awards for Black artists, it really isn’t at all remarkable to see Black singers and musicians in the charts. In fact, I’d say it would be more remarkable if there weren’t any.

The same with drama. There are a number of Black Shakespearian thesps – Josette Simon, who played Dayna in the classic SF series Blake’s 7, had that theatrical background. I think a year or so ago Lenny Henry, who is very active promoted Black talent, appeared on stage as Hamlet. And this is apart from other plays from the classical repertoire, including those from Ancient Greece. There have also been a number of contemporary plays examining the position of Blacks in western society. I also wonder if part of the relative underrepresentation of Asians – and I am very well aware that there are Asian actors and presenters, like Anita Rani, Meera Syal, Sanjeev Bhaskar, Adil Ray – may come from that community’s general preference to choose careers other than the entertainment industry. Or at least, not the western canon. I am aware of the casting of an Asian actor, whose name I’ve forgotten, as the Master in last season’s Dr. Who, and others in Armando Iannucci’s film version of one of Dicken’s classics. But I wonder if the Asian community generally prefers to look to its own cultural traditions, like Bollywood movies and traditional Indian arts and theatre, rather than mainstream film, TV and music. There have been Asian artists and bands in the charts – Apache Indian, Corner Shop and Kula Shaker, and I remember Jaz Mann’s brief hit with Babylon Zoo in the ’90s. But there seems to be far fewer of them than Black performers.

Clearly in a White majority society, there are limited roles for Black and Asian performers, hence the demand for ‘colour blind’ casting, as actors from ethnic minorities are given the roles of White characters. I also wonder if some of the casting of Black performers for reasons of diversity isn’t part of an attempt to create work for them. I heard from academics years ago that there’s actually only work for a 1/4 of the drama students who graduate everywhere. I think if this was not tackled, it would be particularly acute for Black performers. And so to avoid another furore about racism and for the other reasons discussed, the entertainment industry is deliberately casting Black performers in greater proportion than they are as part of the general British population.

This forced diversity is unpopular with White right-wingers like Webb and Belfield, but it is a problem when it serves to discriminate against Asians. And that needs to be tackled, like any other form of racism.

History Debunked on the Anachronistic Casting of Black Actors to Play Ann Boleyn and Queen Caroline

December 14, 2020

One of the complains raised by some members of the right against the demands for more Black presenters and actors on screen is that it represents a form of cultural colonisation. The past is deliberately being re-shaped to suit the multicultural present. The right-wing internet YouTuber, Alex Belfield, has argued that by the Beeb’s standards, Blacks are actually overrepresented on television. At the moment British Black and Asian population constitutes about 13 per cent of the overall population, but form 22 per cent of the presenters, performers and broadcast on the box. It’s why he choose in one of his videos to attack the Beeb for wasting even more license-payers’ money on someone to head a diversity department. He maintained that the problem wasn’t the underrepresentation of Blacks and Asians in front of the camera. It was that they weren’t represented in the ranks of BBC management, which remained very White and middle class.

There are a number of recent and forthcoming adaptations of classic literature, in which Blacks and Asians have been cast in traditionally White roles. And so Blacks have been cast to appear in the children’s classic, The Secret Garden, Philip Pullman’s Fantasy series, His Dark Materials, and Dev Patel, who played the Master in the last series of Dr. Who, appeared in a colour blind, multi-ethnic version of Dickens and is due to star in an adaptation of the medieval story, Gawain and the Green Knight. There’s also a version of the Lord of the Rings planned by the Corporation, in which a third of the cast will be Black or Asian with Lenny Henry.

But this desire to recast White characters with Blacks isn’t confined to fiction. Channel 5 has announced that it has cast a Black actress, Jodie Turner-Smith, to play Ann Boleyn in a three part series about Henry VIII’s second wife. And Netflix has also chosen a Black actress to play Queen Caroline in its regency romance, Bridgerton.

History Debunked’s Simon Webb has posted several videos about this. He was rather incensed by the decision to recast one of the characters in The Secret Garden as Black, and describes how there was some popular criticism of a similar recasting in His Dark Materials. However, he says that left-wingers and progressives answered that by arguing that the role was fiction, and that Pullman never specified what colour the character was.

That argument, however, cannot be used to defend the false representation of Boleyn and Caroline as Blacks. He views this as a deliberate attempt to colonise the past so that it resembles what he describes as the ‘bastardised’ multicultural present. It is also not being done in a vacuum. There are Blacks, who believe that Queen Caroline really was Black, as was James I of England/VI of Scotland, and Edward III’s son, Henry, the Black Prince. This recasting of real, historical figures has to be resisted because it is actively falsifying history to make it appear that Blacks had a far greater role in shaping history than they did.

Here’s the video about Ann Boleyn.

Jodie Turner-Smith to play Ann Boleyn – YouTube

The idea that Queen Caroline was Black comes from the fact that she was partly descended from a thirteenth century Spanish Moorish prince. The Moors in Islamic Spain – al-Andalus – were Arabs and Berbers, rather than Black Africans. Caroline herself was so far removed from her Moorish ancestor that any Black ancestry she had wouldn’t have been expressed physically. She was a German princess, and so would have been White in appearance.

A black queen in Netflix’ new series Bridgerton – YouTube

See also:

New, multicultural versions of two classics of English literature – YouTube

TV Diversity Is NOT A Problem 🇬🇧 22% 📺 BBC Give Us Back The £100,000,000! – YouTube

Multi-Racial Casting Already in Theatre

I think there are also a number of other factors driving this trend. Multiracial casting has been around in the theatre for a very long time. I think as far back as the 1990s Black and Asians actors were being cast in traditionally White roles in Shakespeare. I remember an article in the Independent or the I came out a few years ago commenting that such casting was accepted by audiences, even when people of different ethnicities played members of the same family. There was also something of a furore a few years ago when the Black opera singer, Willard White, was cast as Odin in Wagner’s Ring. What seems to be happening is simply that this same process is being extended to film and TV. The Dickens’ adaptation that came out recently not only starred Dev Patel as the central character, but also had members of the same family played by actors of different races. It was made by Armando Iannucci, one of the brains behind the comedy news programme, The Day Today and other shows in the 1990s.

Few Explicitly Black Parts and the Metropolitan Bubble

I also believe that it’s due to the fact that there are too few parts specifically for Black and Asian actors. That’s been the complaint voiced by one of the Black activists pushing for the greater inclusion of Black performers when he was interviewed in the I a little while back. Blacks and Asians are minorities, and generally are under represented in the upper ranks of society. Hence the demand for colour blind casting and that directors should be willing to cast Blacks and Asians. It also seems to me to be also partly a product of the metropolitan bubble in which the media and its chiefs live. Over a third of London’s population is Black and Asian, and I think there’s an automatic assumption that somehow this is true of the rest of Britain. Some Black activists and performers have been really shocked to find that there are large parts of Britain with hardly any people like themselves. Years ago the late Black actor and comedian, Felix Dexter, appeared on the panel in an edition of the News Quiz, which came from Edinburgh. He expressed his surprise that there were areas of Scotland with hardly a Black face to be seen. While undoubtedly true, his surprise struck me as also a tiny bit racist in itself. There was an element of complaint in it, as if it was somehow a defect that these places happened to be nearly all White. It reminded me a bit of the comments by Victorian explorers about going into parts of Black Africa and elsewhere previously untouched by the White man. I’m sure Dexter and those, who share his views would have been horrified by the comparison, but I believe it’s a true one.

Selling Programmes to a Non-White Foreign Audience

I also wonder if it’s also driven by a need to sell these programmes abroad. Blacks constitute something like 10-13 per cent of the American population, and together with Asians constitute 25 per cent of the American population. I’ve no doubt that the Beeb will also be seeking to sell the programmes to Black majority and Asian countries, such as Africa, the Caribbean, India and so on. Hence the decision to cast Black and Asian actors may well come from a desire to appeal to foreign, non-White audiences.

Dangers of the Falsification of History

I wouldn’t have a problem with this, were it not for two reasons. I’m afraid that it really will result in a falsification of history. If it was just a case of TV companies trying to reach new audiences in line with present, multicultural sensibilities, I’d be perfectly happy with it. Provided that the audience understood that what they were seeing was fiction. They they understood that Queen Caroline and Ann Boleyn weren’t really Black, and that Victorian and medieval Britain weren’t as multicultural as today’s London. But I really don’t think they do. And this is going to be a particular problem with some Blacks, who believe that their history has already been appropriated by Whites. This is very much the case with Afro-Centric History and ancient Egypt. All the Black people I’ve met have believed that the ancient Egyptians were Black. This isn’t unreasonable. They portrayed themselves as darker than the other peoples further north and east, like the Minoans and the Semitic peoples of Canaan and the Ancient Near East. Examination of human skeletons from ancient Egyptian tombs show that many were more Black African in appearance than previously assumed, and certainly the sculpture of Queen Ty shows her as being very Black. On the other hand the Egyptians portrayed the African peoples further south, such as those of Nubia, to be much darker than themselves. I also don’t think that the ancient historians, like Herodotus, described them as Black. Herodotus was well aware of Black African peoples and tribes, like the Ethiopians, but he doesn’t describe the Egyptians as one of them, at least, not that I can remember. It isn’t unreasonable by any means to believe the Egyptians were Black, but there’s also room for debate. Unfortunately, I’ve heard some really bonkers conspiracy theories about the supposed White appropriation of the ancient Egyptians. One Black American I knew at college claimed that the reason so many statues from ancient Egypt had chipped or missing noses and lips was because the European archaeologists deliberately removed them in order to hide their African identity. It’s a paranoid, ludicrous idea, though you can’t really blame people for believing it. Black people have historically been abused and exploited, so it’s to be expected that this sense of exploitation, and that they are being deliberately denied a glorious history, should extend to one of the most famous and brilliant of ancient civilisations.

But I’m very much afraid that once the decision is taken to cast Blacks as real, historical figures, some people will genuinely believe that these figures really were Black, and that those evil Whites have falsified history once more to hide their true racial origins.

There is also the problem that recasting the past so that it appears more multicultural than it really was may also lead to modern audiences not realising just how hard a struggle Blacks and Asians had to gain their freedom. Nearly a year ago now Mr H of the YouTube channel Mr H Reviews raised this objection to the Beeb’s new adaptation of that horror classic, Dracula. The convent to which Harker flees for help and medical treatment in Budapest is shown as multiracial, with many of the nuns Black and Asian. He felt that this was anachronistic, though I’m told by a friend of mine with a greater knowledge of church history that the Roman Catholic convents in the city were staffed with people from the missions to Asia and elsewhere, so it’s possible there would have been Black and Asian nuns there.

In the case of regency Britain and the upper ranks of society, intermarriage between Whites and Blacks wasn’t unknown, but it was rare. A few years ago back in the ’90s Radio 4 did a programme about the Black son of a White planter or British aristocrat, who had a glittering political career as an MP and ended up, I believe, as the sheriff of Monmouthshire. One the other hand, when Major Moody came to write his report in the 1820s on whether Blacks were ready for their emancipation, he argued that they would never be accepted and treated fairly by White society. Part of his argument was that there were so few marriages between Whites and Blacks among the upper classes. Moody’s wife was Black, and so his report and its conclusion that the enslaved population of the British empire weren’t yet ready for their freedom was a real shock. But if Queen Caroline is presented as a Black woman, it obviously contradicts Moody’s own observation. And his observation and the argument it supports shows just how strong racial prejudice was among some sections of the populace in 19th century Britain.

Double Standards on ‘Cultural Appropriation’

My other problem with this is that of the accusation of ‘cultural appropriation’. This only seems to go one way. Black involvement and participation in White culture is actively encouraged and its absence condemned and deplored as a form of racism. But this doesn’t go the other way. When Whites adopt non-White culture, it’s condemned as a form of cultural theft. In the case of those cultures that have been colonised and nearly destroyed by White expansion and imperialism, like the Amerindians and Aboriginal Australians, this is fair enough. But there should surely be no objection to the casting of White actors as Black characters in works by Black and Asian writers and playwrights. Not if it’s done as part of a multi-ethnic cast and avoids the obviously offensive, like blacking up. But I’ve yet to see a White actor cast in a Black part in an adaptation of one of Wole Soyinka’s works, or Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart. I therefore feel that Webb has a point when he attacks it as a form of cultural colonisation. Because until Whites are allowed to play Black roles, that’s what it is.

I’m prepared to accept that the portrayal of myths and literary characters on screen is changing as society changes, and that mostly this harmless. Dickens, Shakespeare and medieval classics like Chaucer and Gawain are great tales, and should appeal to everyone, regardless of their colour. But I have grave reservations about the decision to do the same to historical figures.

It might be well intentioned, but too many people may believe it’s fact, and so a mythical, false history created.

Satirist Would Cast Stuffed Animal to Play Boris Johnson

December 3, 2019

Here’s a funny story from yesterday’s I to provide some light relief, though it’s still about our comedy prime minister. And yes, I know it’s ad hominem, but it’s still funny. According to the article ‘PM could be played by stuffed animal’ by Alex Green, the satirist Armando Iannucci declared that he would make this casting choice at the British Independent Film Awards. Most of the article was really about the decision to cast Dev Patel as the hero in Iannucci’s colour-blind version of Dickens’ novel, The Personal History of David Copperfield. Iannucci said that he made the casting decision as a statement of Britishness, which ‘is open and generous and eccentric and funny, rather than closed and isolationist and withdrawn, which is the language we are hearing at the moment in certain other quarters.’

But of our comedy Prime Minister, the writer and creator of comedies like The Thick Of It, The Day Today and The Death of Stalin said, according to the newspaper, ‘I would probably use…stuffed animals. The smaller the better. The animal that shits the most.” This precisely shows how much Johnson is esteemed by the creator of those TV series and film. And as Johnson continues to show how inept, greedy and treacherous he really is, so more people are going to agree with Iannucci.