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Finally, after 60 years, a Black Doctor Who

Is television racially biased? Many believe the BBC has done too little, too late, to counter decades of prejudice in the way people of colour have been represented in popular drama.  When Doctor Who was first broadcast in 1963, Britain still exercised often brutal rule over colonies in Africa. Racial discrimination would not be criminalised for another two years. Black people were shut out of housing and employment. Almost six decades later, the long-running series has just announced its first-ever Black lead. Ncuti Gatwa will become the 14th Doctor when the programme returns next year. The series has diversified its cast since it was rebooted in 2005. And in 2020, Jo Martin became the first non-White person to play the role of the Doctor when she appeared as one of the character’s incarnations, the Fugitive Doctor. But until now, the main role has remained firmly in the hands of White actors. And some think this is a sign of a more general problem facing Black people in the TV industry. David Harewood is one of the most recognisable figures on TV. Yet in the course of his 30-year career, he has never been cast as a main character. He says Black actors face unspoken rules that do not exist for White people. Many of Britain’s most prominent Black actors, including Daniel Kaluuya, Idris Elba and Regé-Jean Page, had to go to the USA to find success. And it is not just Black actors who feel the industry works against them. South Asian actors are often typecast as nerds or religious extremists. East Asian actors have to put on a thick accent for laughs. Asian women rarely appear on our screens. It does seem as if television is changing. Recent years have seen a slew of successful series with Black leads and creators. However, some actors of colour think this is tokenism. They accuse production companies of casting actors of colour in lead roles to get media attention while doing nothing to change the structures that hold them back. Is television racially biased? Diverse universe Yes: The TV industry is a hive of racist comments, casual discrimination, and offensive typecasting. Actors of colour are held back at every level by White gatekeepers. No: Bit by bit, TV is changing. People of colour are getting more roles and more exposure. We should applaud the progress that TV has made in recent years. Or… TV reflects wider attitudes and unfair structures in society. Rather than focusing specifically on entertainment, we should be trying to tear down all barriers to marginalised people. KeywordsColonies in Africa - From the late 19th Century until the 1960s, Britain colonised much of West, East and southern Africa.

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