Black Icons: On Screen at the BFI

Black Icons, Heritage
Last week a new cohort of young volunteers, taking part in FAD’s Black Icons project , spent the day at British Film Institute (BFI) on London’s Southbank.

The session kicked off with an introduction to the BFI and all it’s programs and facilities by Education Curator David Somerset.

The group (some of whom were well prepared enough to have bought their own pop corn!) settled into a private cinema space to watch specially curated films featuring black Brits from the early part of the 20th century.


We were lucky enough to have each film introduced and contextualized by the writer and historian Stephen Bourne who was also on hand to answer any questions. Stephen pointed out people of note in each film and gave a brief outline of their back story.

To familiarize the young people with the concept of ‘Empire,’ and England as the ‘Mother Country,’ the first film to be screened was ‘West Indies Calling‘, a Ministry of Information film showing how Caribbean people helped the war effort in the UK.


After this the volunteers watched ‘Song of Freedom,’ a 1936 film featuring three Black actors who lived and worked in London.

After digesting ‘Song of Freedom’ the group talked over the themes of racism and identity, and how well they connected (or not) with the films. Fashion Futures alumni Georgia was surprised that the humour, though 79 years old, still made her laugh. Fashion Futures runner-up David and FAD volunteer Angelica were concerned with the idea of ‘civilising,’ African communities. This opened up an interesting discussion about changing attitudes and cinema as a form of escapism.


In the afternoon the group were given access to the BFI National Archive via the Mediatheque to conduct independent research on the black experience in jazz age England. This opportunity enabled them to sift through over 2,500 rare films and TV programmes.

Huge thanks to Stephen Bourne and all at the BFI for this informative and inspiring session. More blog posts from our young heritage volunteers coming soon.

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