One year on: Looking back at Black Perspectives
Over the past year at We Are Social, we’ve been giving a platform to some of the UK’s foremost emerging Black creatives and creators through our Black Perspectives Instagram Live series. To mark Black History Month, UK Editor and host of the series Dan Chirwa, picked out five key takeaways from the series so far.
Diversity of storytelling is key
Our first Live guest was the writer and storyteller Aniefiok Ekpoudom. Neef was already book deal in hand when we met, defying the difficulties of building a career in online publishing and the insights he provided in our conversation showed why.
A big theme of the first Live was diversity of storytelling. What we saw on screen needed to be more representative to give a more nuanced view of the lives of Black people in this country. It is nuance we already see in other creative forms that allows Black people to break apart from that tough athletic musical and even heterosexual monolith and be wholly themselves.
Since the Live, the BBC has broadcast Steve McQueen’s Small Axe canon of films. As I type, Channel 4 is running its Black to Front season putting Black writers and show runners to the forefront to coincide with Black History Month. Neef’s episode was prescient and his insights ahead of what was to come down the pipeline.
Brands need to be willing to pay the price of inclusivity
The chat with leading womenswear designer from Gymshark Rochelle Mills was instructive in showing the drive, talent and ambition to launch a career in sportswear design as Black woman. We were also told about the reality of inclusion and the steep price.
To make clothes that fit all shapes or a range of skin tones that are truly “nude” whatever your racial makeup, it needs investment. Fabrics, machinery, development time for samples – it’s the kind of project likely to only be driven by a senior Black designer. And even after that, to get sign off requires sell-in at board level. Does your brand have total commitment to diversity when it is time to pay the price of inclusivity?
Lived experience and perspective is the value
“Never get bogged down with someone telling you what you can and cannot do in the industry. If that door is closed for you, I guarantee there is another way.” Jay Perry, Episode 6.
The starting point is just where you start, but all aspects of the Black experience can be channelled for good. Neef worked for a time with We Are Social on a number of campaigns. Mikai Mikai spoke extensively of starting in beauty blogging and influencing before the George Floyd killing and burgeoning Black Lives Matter movement led to her bringing her lived experience and politics degree to bear more in her content. Fiona Compton began as an artist before other forms of storytelling led her to her position today.
The value to brands is opening up their organisations and audiences to new voices and views that they previously had limited exposure to. From this, you get fresh approaches to existing briefs, better more inclusive thinking and more effective communications.
Diverse casting means both sides of the camera
LGBTQ+ activist and beloved youth worker Tanya Compas made the point that often brands pat themselves on the back for “diverse” casting when reality is anything but. For a shoot, casting includes the crew you hire. “Who’s the director? Photographer? Make-up artist.” Mikai Mikai cited Vogue, a magazine edited by Edward Enninful, but with very few minorities under him. Their activism issue had all Black, mixed race and minority activists but a majority white crew.
Not catering for different ethnicities in this way ultimately manifests itself as a micro-aggression to your minority talent and at best, the work will ultimately suffer. At worst your brand or agency can get a reputation for paying lip-service to diversity and ostracise your name from talent themselves.
Jay Perry’s Live shone the spotlight on casting of a different kind. He used his platform during lockdown to create space for, draw attention to, and speak for issues that afflict the Trans community. As Black creatives, we can now platform others too, and there is more that unites marginalised minorities than there is that divides.
True commitment to genuine representation of communities comes with time. As Tanya said, “brands need to work with multiple people in the same community to achieve representation”. Not on every campaign, but it’s a process.
Black humanity is found in joy
What has been evident throughout the series so far is that for too many Black people from the Caribbean and African diasporas, it can feel that happiness is rationed. Even the portrayal of it in art.
Neef spoke on the first Live of the need for commissioned stories to move on from Black trauma. Tanya Compas has dedicated her life to creating spaces for joy for marginalised and disenfranchised people to – at least for a little while – feel that they are fully themselves. Historian Fiona Compton referred to Carnival as the conduit for the “joy that runs through our community”. Jay Perry asked for more plays to be written in the glow of Black joy.
Every guest this series has created and spoken and shared and existed out of joy and compassion for others. It fills my heart that this is the case. As an industry and a society we should continue to do everything we can, within our means to create work and build partnerships that allow that joy to flourish; and dismantle structures which hinder its survival.
You can watch back all episodes of Black Perspectives here.