A series of written stories that explore discrimination and exclusion in the UK. This was commissioned as an extension of Four Visual Poems About Race, a short film by Rubika Shah that featured on T A P E Collective’s Good Wickedry platform. In case you missed the film, you can watch it here.
THE ONLY ONE IN THE ROOM by Kam Gandhi
I’m usually the only brown person in the room. I’m usually the only one at a gig, the cinema or in the countryside. As a filmmaker in the southwest, it’s pretty much the same story, but that changed when I met another brown filmmaker at an event, and I felt a distinctly odd feeling. What was this feeling? It felt like a mixture of recognition, (yay someone like me!) and suspicion, (oh no someone like me!).
Being the only brown person in the room meant I never really had to examine this feeling before. I never unpacked the racist undertones of being seen as ‘exceptional’ in those spaces. Being exceptional in the context of my brown-ness means being accepted as ‘one of us’, in a room full of whiteness. It’s an unspoken positioning. In my youth it was the words “you’re not like the others” (Pakis), but of course I was like all the ‘others’. Another brown person in the room removes my position of being exceptional.
In the film & TV world diversity remits and their accompanying tick boxes aim to “address under-representation”. Funding for films need to show how the production will address this issue of ‘under-representation’ and it does this by using the diversity tick box, but when it comes down to numbers, how many is enough?
What we understood that day when we met and we felt those feelings, was that one brown filmmaker was probably enough. It’s a neat way of keeping us in competition with each other, of keeping the racist idea of exceptionalism going. It’s also a great way for the usual suspects in film & TV to go about their business and simply tick the box, “yep one black/brown person in the cast” Job done.
HIJAB JOY by Deqa Hassan
I grew up wearing the hijab, among other little girls wearing the hijab too. Before I was old enough to attach any theological meaning to it, it was just a fun accessory not unlike some shiny bracelets or a pretty headband. It gave me another opportunity to tie my outfit together and it made me look even more like my mum. I could wear it with pins or brooches, up or down and my child’s mind was blown to find a way to braid it into a cloth ponytail.
It was as light-hearted as it was light.
But a lot of people try to weigh it down with their own assumptions and projections. They tie it to women’s rights being rolled back in Afghanistan or their perceived Islamic censorship of women, or to my own hypothetical tyrannical Muslim parents. Disguising their bigotry as concern over my feminist rights, believing that the only thing I need is their permission to “be myself” and be liberated. Never stopping to consider that maybe someone in a hijab already is.
The truth is the hijab does weigh more than it did when I was a child. Now it’s less light and more profound as a visual connection to the rest of my community and an emblem of my faith in Allah.
Also, don’t lie. It’s cute.
EAST by Sufia Sadullah
The city’s a mad world and from the street to the bar, every space has a face that at home felt afar. Here in a house, near the coast on the east of this place,
a pin drops,
there are rats but no race.
And in the kitchen which you live in, I watch you roll your dough. Rant about life, what’s wrong and right, question me on what I do and do not know. Making dishes, wishing wishes to visit a land that is not mine, I wear jhumkas for no reason to make up for lost time. Cos at sixteen I refused to wear a sari to prom. Do you want me to get bullied? I just want you to know where you’re from. So I take a train up to Scotland where every season takes the day, the cracks of sun in the sky even beam with shades of grey. Mocking your accent which I lost at the humble age of four, home is you teaching me to cheer when England didn’t score. And though you may not have given me your blonde hair and blue eyes, I got your kindness, got your cheekbones and those grey Dundee skies.
Back to the coast I take a breath in ways that are above me and I look at the stories to be told from the edges of this country. Left this place so much that I’ve lost my own count, but like a long lost love I always come back around.
I say bye to familiar faces
friendships since early ages,
time has stopped and nothing changes
except the way we pronounce our names and
home is where the spice is
where the identity crises
A mixed bag of lessons taught and lessons had, I’m just tryna understand how the mother meets the fatherland.
TO ALL THE PEOPLE WHO SAID by Nileema Yesmin
TO ALL THE PEOPLE WHO SAID I was born out of a mock irony of the platitudes of a need for diversity in the Film and TV industries.
‘You have a unique voice – they say
You need to change it – they say
That won’t sell – they say
What they’re saying – Is you won’t sell.’
Often it feels like there is a fetishization of your otherness. That somehow you must have a unique story to tell to be a filmmaker of colour. That your stories have to be more Barry Jenkins than Stephen Spielberg.
Let alone perish the thought that your stories could be universal. There is no U for universal as a BAME Filmmaker. And if you’re a woman with a voice then where’s your story of being victimised? How could you – possibly make-believe aliens arriving on planet earth? Because being treated like one doesn’t qualify you to write those stories.
‘They look at me now like they’ve never seen someone like me, directing a story like this.
Just because I don’t look like, and sound like — they, doesn’t mean said — don’t belong here.’
My once in a lifetime opportunity to work in FILM and HETV came from opening my mouth. Sharing my interests in working in the industry with those in my community and networks – personal connections snowballed into word-of-mouth opportunities – none of which were advertised publicly that I could have found on my own. Without peer support – I’d have imposter syndrome. Connecting to individuals at a similar stage – I have a network of peers who I can collaborate with to build our careers together. – If anyone tries to say something to you – open your mouth in return and prove them wrong.
This piece is part of a co-commission between Make It in Brixton and T A P E Collective. Read more about T A P E Collective in our interview with the founders here.
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