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"Remember Us?" Leading Ladies Of Color In British Cinema History

Shadow and Act By Emmanuel Akitobi | Shadow and Act June 5, 2012 at 9:50PM

There's been a lot of recent Internet chatter about the upcoming sports drama Fast Girls, and how it features the first lead performance by a black actress in a British film.  Not to take anything away from actress Lenora Crichlow, but that just isn't so.
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LeadingLadies

There's been a lot of recent Internet chatter about the upcoming sports drama Fast Girls, and how it features the first lead performance by a black actress in a British film.  Not to take anything away from actress Lenora Crichlow, but that just isn't so.

In an interview last month with the London Evening Standard, Crichlow dropped this little nugget:

But perhaps we should concentrate on a more remarkable fact. I'd been told that the Londoner sitting in front of me is the first black female actor to lead a British film. "This is according to Damian [Jones], the producer, and he knows his stuff," she says when I mention it, as if she can barely believe it herself.

"It's a double-edged sword, though. All my favourite actresses are women of colour, and it saddens me that they're not household names. But what a positive place to start from. The majority of our lead characters are black females, representing their country, in strong, positive roles. It is something we should see more of."

It's a positive sentiment but, thankfully, it isn't completely accurate.  Several actresses before Crichlow have had opportunities to shine in front of the camera, their performances immortalized on film.

Just last year we saw Zawe Ashton star in the docu/drama Dreams Of A Life, and even got a chance to speak to her about her lead role.

Having already appeared in several memorable supporting film roles, Sophie Okonedo took the lead in the 2008 Anthony Fabian-directed drama Skin.

Danny Boyle's 2002 thriller 28 Days Later featured a star-turning performance from a then-relatively-unknown Naomie Harris*However, after watching the film's trailer, one would never know it.*

SPOILER ALERT:  (Don't watch the below clip if you haven't yet seen the film.)

Marianne Jean-Baptiste received a Best Supporting Actress Oscar nomination for her performance in the 1996 drama Secrets & Lies.  But anyone who saw it knows that she and Brenda Blethyn (who was nominated for Best Actress) both carried that film.

Following her 1986 feature film debut opposite Bob Hoskins in director Neil Jordan's Mona Lisa, actress Cathy Tyson was on track to make a name for herself in Hollywood.

In 1981, director Menelik Shabazz's Burning An Illusion featured a lead performance from Cassie McFarlane that still puts butts in seats at film festivals worldwide.

And these are only the films I could remember.  If anyone can name others, please feel free to share.

I wish Crichlow and the rest of the Fast Girls cast much success with their film this summer. Let's just keep in mind that there are British actresses out there whose performances should not be forgotten, and whose best work we likely have yet to see.

This article is related to: Sophie Okonedo, Naomie Harris, Lenora Crichlow, Zawe Ashton


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