Barbershop Chronicles Photo by Marc Brenner
Earlier this month I saw Barbershop Chronicles at the Roundhouse theatre which if you haven’t seen it is amazing (and you should go and see it before ends!)
After the show, I remember thinking ‘So many guys I know would love to watch this!’. The beautiful thing about this play is the way it has many stories and characters around the world together experiencing something that connects them – a barbershop. So I got my dad, brothers, and cousin to go and see it for what would be my second time but their first. Of course, I enjoyed the show but what I loved the most was seeing them enjoy it and experience something that they would probably relate to. It caused some great discussions about the characters, jokes and the topics covered. It led to them sharing their own experiences and how much they connected to it. Seeing their reactions and hearing their opinions reminded me of how amazing it feels to see relatable stories and themes on the screen and stage.
One of the many reasons why I enjoy writing was to be able to create stories that weren’t being told. Growing up in the UK there weren’t many shows or films that related to my Black British experience. Of course, there were shows like Desmond’s and Goodness gracious me but most of the shows that had black characters or people of colour were American TV shows like The Fresh Prince of Bel-air. But the other British TV shows that were shown were ones that had stories that weren’t ’like my own. I don’t think certain stories should be ignored because if it’s based on someone’s life or if people can relate to it then it’s valid. I just believe that all stories should be told. Being a black person cannot be told through one story and that can be said for all races and cultures. When we have different films, TV shows and plays we get to see the real world which sometimes hasn’t been portrayed correctly in the news and media. As stereotypes are challenged, we get to listen to stories that all of us can relate to and understand regardless of your background or upbringing.
It’s the power of being seen when you’ve felt like you’re invisible. It shows that we can be anything.
My first real moment where I connected to a play was Bola Agbaje’s 2012 play Belong. It felt surreal seeing characters on stage that had accents and mannerisms that I’d grown up seeing. I remember taking my dad and sister to see it and speaking about it for hours. Most of all I remember my dad’s reaction to living in this country for over 30 years and watching a play about Nigeria for the first time. I was astounded but also happy that I could see him enjoy a play that he understood on a personal level. It’s a powerful feeling to see aspects of your upbringing and culture on stage when you’ve never seen it before. I feel like the younger generation is going to grow up with a different experience because they really surrounded by so many different stories. It’s the power of being seen when you’ve felt like you’re invisible. It shows that we can be anything. This is why representation is important because it brings untold stories to life. When it’s done well it can be a brilliant tool that creates a fresh outlook on our society and good stories we can appreciate.
Representation is not just a hashtag but a necessity in all areas!
I do believe that representation needs to be done in the right way. In the past few years, we’ve seen films like Black Panther and Crazy Rich Asians; and I hope this momentum continues to grow not just in Hollywood but in the UK. Recently the cast was announced for the Disney live-action film The Little mermaid which caused a huge reaction of outrage with many. I’ve got no problem with the casting at all – Ariel is a fictional character and Halle Bailey is a talented actor and singer. However, sometimes I do worry about some of these decisions and hope that these companies and corporations are doing them for the right reasons and not for controversy or trends. We’ve seen how representation hasn’t always been constant in the last few years. Representation is not just a hashtag but a necessity in all areas!
Representation isn’t only about who’s on the screen or on stage, but who’s behind it. Giving opportunities to writers, directors, producers, editors and more are vital to creating a great show or film and I think that increasing the diversity in these positions is what will inspire new ideas, creativity but most of all real stories.
Art is a powerful form that brings people together regardless of background or culture. When a story is authentic and told correctly it’s not only great for people to connect to but it has the power to open minds. It forces audiences to live in that moment, in that feeling where you can understand a person on an intimate level. This is why representation is important. It influences culture; it creates new opportunities for creatives and inspires original stories. We’ve still got a long way to go but I’m excited for what’s to come.