British actor David Oyelowo, star of prestigious movies like Selma and the newly-released A United Kingdom, has called on the British film industry to expand its efforts for increased diversity, claiming that he moved to the United States because a lack of opportunity for black actors in the UK.

The 40 year old actor was delivering the keynote address at a symposium organised by the BFI Southbank on Thursday (October 6th), in order to mark the start of the Black Star season celebrating the contributions of black actors to the British film industry.

However, Oyelowo argued that the sense of progress the industry had made needed to be accelerated, particularly pushing for more historical and period pieces that show Britain “how it became what it is.”

David OyelowoDavid Oyelowo was speaking at the BFI Southbank's Black Star season opening

“People of colour have been expunged from Britain’s history,” the star said. “One of the best ways to illustrate how integrated we are historically is to have a piece of entertainment that people can also learn from while they are watching it. That is why I am hellbent on period drama: we need the context so we can build, and then go on to grow.”

Speaking about his experiences of trying to break into the industry as a young man, he recalled his experiences with fellow black actors. “We have sat there together, we have prayed together, we have scratched our heads together, we have felt displaced together, we have felt abandoned together. They are still here. I felt I had to leave.”

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He then urged industry movers to address what he called a “talent drain”.

“You have to change the demographics of the people who are making these decisions. You are the curators of culture. You are those who are going to shape the minds of those coming up.”

Oyelowo is the star of the critically acclaimed new film A United Kingdom, telling the true story of Seretse Khama, a descendent of a royal family in what was then the British protectorate of Bechuanaland (now the independent state of Botswana) who became the centre of a diplomatic crisis in the 1940s after he married a white British clerical worker, Ruth Williams, in London (played by Rosamund Pike).

“I grew up watching period dramas, as we all did in the 1980s and 90s: endless adaptations of Jane Austen and Charles Dickens, and I loved them,” Oyelowo continued. “But I never saw anyone like me in them; so I decided to find a story to erode the excuses for me not doing one.

“The only way we are going to get diversity is if the demographics of the decision-makers change... The odd token bone thrown is not going to do it. Don’t pat yourself on the back because you made that black drama; that’s not diversity. It’s got to be baked into the foundation of where the ideas flow from.”

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