THE JOY OF FILM
From music videos to full size attributes, author and producer Joy Gharoro-Akpojotor is a part of a new generation of gifted young black film-makers in Britain. Portrait by Tino Chiwariro
Joy Gharoro-Akpojotor considers big. Over the course of our discussion,thewords”expand”,”distance” and”open” saturate
Her ideas about the demands of the ﬁlm landscape she’s come to understand in the UK as a writer and producer. Her ﬁlm-making doctrine puts an urgent focus on disrupting the exclusive and narrow systems which have made up the industry for decades. “To find out more black perform, more queer perform, more female work on screen” are her aspirations.
“When you come in a place in which you’ve needed to hustle, you’ve needed to make everything happen on your own, and somebody tells you’no’,’ it is not just a no. It merely means that they have no idea how to do it, or it’s not for them,” she says, talking over the phone. “People have a particular way they need to do things and that I ﬁnd at times I’m told things have to be donea certain manner. But why can not we do them another way?”
Blue Story, made by GharoroAkpojotor and composed and led by rapper and music producer Rapman, is a fantastic illustration of the other manner. The movie chronicles the lives of young black teenagers caught up in gang violence involving Lebanese postcodes in south London. It ini- tially confronted a temporary ban by some cinema chains, following at least one violent episode outside a screening. Ultimately, though, its striking box oﬃce success showed how starved cinema audiences have been in the UK for diverse content.
“People went and watch the ﬁlm many times in the cinema and that is just because they haven’t seen themselves on screen before,” says Gharoro-Akpojotor. Blue Story is a powerful, deeply felt piece of work that humanises the kinds of young guys who are largely demonised in the media due to their gang aﬃliation, offering to engage with their lifestyles in thoughtful and balanced ways. The ﬁlm spoke toa speciﬁc audience however, it was a hit across demographics. “I really don’t think anybody expected white guys in their ﬁfties to like the ﬁlm,” she says. “But they did.” Her curiosity in ﬁlm was piqued during her A-levels,thanksinpart into a discounted theater ticket strategy, and she applied to the ﬁlm studies course at Queen Mary University of London, where her discovery of queer cinema and the French New Wave expanded her tastes.
At the time,” she says, she”only knew ﬁlms happened, but not how they happened at all”. Reading A Killer Life, an account by American producer Christine Vachon of her career in Hollywood, helped Gharoro-Akpojotor know what producing is. “On a practical level, you raise money, you find team, you discover the cast,” she states. “However, what else is there for this?”
“I look at creating and I see the beauty of storytelling in most sections,” Gharoro-Akpojotor says. “The thought that all of us have come together to create a vision and to tell a story fascinates me every single time.” She sees her character on set as the”enabler”, the person who knows a manager’s goals and brings them to fruition.
Her curiosity about creating led her to work on music videos and brief ﬁlms, learning the ropes feature film opportunities arrived.
Her generating aims have been spurred on by a desire for increased inclusion. “I had this short film I wanted to create but I did not understand how I could make it because it had been about a queer couple and I did not understand any lesbian ﬁlm-makers,” she says. “I had been struggling to ﬁnd ﬁlms about myself, whereI can see black girls or gay women on display, so I ﬁgured I would begin producing so I could view that representation.”
A report on race and ethnicity in the UK ﬁlm industry conducted by investigators at the London School of Economics this year concluded that”black and ethnic minority groups face enormous amounts of exclusion by the movie industry”, which while gender representa- tion has improvedthe same cannot be stated for race. Film productions, that have to meet diversity cri- teria for BFI funding, were”over twice as likely to repre- sent sex difference rather than race/ethnicity”.
These issues aren’t only apparent in front of the camera. “Folks have pushed for onscreen representation but still the crews are very white or very male,” Gharoro-Akpojotor says. “You’re constantly told,’We could not find anyone.’ But it’s about giving people opportunities and trusting people. You are telling me there are no black ﬁrst assistant directors in the whole world? If you don’t know where to look, ﬁnd somebody else that does.”
Gharoro-Akpojotor is an engaged and adapting manufacturer, intending to”create an atmosphere where everyone feels seen, heard and emotionally current”, she says. Eva Yates, a commissioner at BBC Films, reiterates this. “That is Joy,” she states. “She kicks all the doors open for other people to follow through.”
So what makes the UK an attractive place to make ﬁlms, especially when the US appears to have more opportunities for black creatives? Gharoro-Akpojotor admits that”that the States are way ahead of us with the content they are making and the people behind it”, however, says that she sees shift blossoming in the united kingdom.
“Over here, I feel like we are starting our very own mini-revolution where suddenly there’s a push for more inclusive voices to appear and to be heard and seen,” she says, mentioning Fiona Lamptey, a co-producer about the BBC’s current Windrush drama Sitting in Limbo, and whose interest in creating black sci-ﬁ inspires Gha- roro-Akpojotor. “The stories have always been around but I think we are at a stage where people are now listening and deciding to showcase those tales.”
She is eager to praise her contemporaries, citing directors
The likelihood of change in the industry is higher on screen than behind the scenes, Gharoro-Akpo- jotor believes. “The practical aspect of it is that it equates to money on display, but change elsewhere will require more time,” she says. “We have so many diversity schemes but we simply need more people to come into the industry, to know that there are job opportunities for them.”
The next few years will be occupied for Gharoro-Akpojotor, today the recipient of a BFI Vision Award which will help to fund new projects. In addition to producing work with a roster of black talent such as Adom, Matthew Jacobs Morgan, Annetta Laufer and Ronke Adekoluejo, she is writing and directing a introduction fea- ture of her , putting herself in the spotlight for once.
“that I wish to allow a lot of young black queer women or those who are female-identifying, who don’t know if they can be in this area, to think they are able to do so because somebody who looks like them is doing it.”