If you were to ask 500 people in the community which event they thought was the most glamorous show in the black showbiz calendar, it wouldn’t be a surprise if the majority said the MOBO’s. That answer may well be true, but there is one event that many people would now put on a par and even ahead of the MOBO’s and that is the Screen Nation Film & TV Awards famously dubbed as the ‘Black Bafta’s’ by The Independent Newspaper.
Like is bigger brother from another mother the Screen Nation Awards through its academy, The Screen Nation Foundation seeks to support, promote and develop British and international African heritage talent and products within the art forms of the moving image – principally film and television – by identifying and rewarding excellence.
The brainchild of Ghanaian born independent film producer Charles Thompson MBE, the Screen Nation Awards were founded in 2003 with a glitzy event held at the premier home of the film industry, the Empire Leicester Square. That night saw the square closed off with hundreds of fans gathering around the barriers to welcome guests of the order of Rudolph Walker, winner of the Trailblazer Award, a very young Miquita Oliver, then nominated as an Emerging Talent plus Moira Stewart and Mona Hammond who over the following years would both be recognised as winners of the Edric Connor Inspiration Award, Screen Nation’s highest UK honour. All major British talent at a very British event that also saw outstanding music performances by Terri Walker and the brilliant yet underrated Sean Escoffery, and not forgetting the after party. What a night!!
But serious students of Black British history will know that the 2003 Screen Nation Awards was not the first Awards event to honour black film & TV talent in the UK. That honour goes to an event that was held the year before in 2002, the bfm Film & TV Awards. The creative force behind that even more fabulous night described by the New Nation as ‘the night of 1000 stars’ was once again that man Charles Thompson. Then working as the Director of the bfm Internationl Film Festival, which he had co-founded in 1999 with seminal film director Menelik Shabbaz, Charles presided over a night in the Grand Ballroom of the Grosvenor House which saw Lenny Henry, Pam Grier, Eamonn Walker, Lenni James and Denzel Washington all receive plaudits from their industry peers. The outstanding success of that night led the Independent Newspaper to describe the awards as the ‘Black Bafta’s’, a tag that has stood ever since.
That night was actually a follow on from an awards event, held by guess who, for 150 guests at BAFTA as part of the 2001 bfm film festival on a day everyone around the world will never forget, 9/11. That’s how the journey started and thankfully still continues today.
Well, where we were again, yes that’s right 2004, the 2nd year of the Screen Nation Awards and by now the event had drawn the support of almost all the broadcasters and industry bodies. 2004 was also a year that saw a lot of discussion in the black community about the EMMA Awards, another event that had been honouring culturally diverse media talent for a number of years. Many may remember the furore over the fact that David Beckham tied with Thierry Henry for Sports Personality and Greg Dyke, then Director General of, in his own words the ‘hideously white’ BBC, also received a major honour. The only thing to note about the EMMA’s is that they no longer take place in theUK.
Within this landscape Screen Nation still managed to land a broadcast deal with MTV no less, something unheard of for a black Awards event in only its second year. But, this unfortunately proved too good to be true and as followers of Screen Nation will know that year’s event held at the beautiful art deco ballroom of the Park Lane Hotel on Piccadilly will be forever known as their annus horriblus as they say.
Despite the fact that the guest list included Hollywood icon Danny Glover alongside an incredibly diverse range of UK talent, the show was one to forget as an overwhelming number of technical hitches spoilt the show for the many guests that were in attendance.
This was a real shame as the guestlist included winners such as Lemar, Floella Benjamin, Martina Laird (she played Comfort in Casualty) and the excellent Angela Wynter (Patrick Trueman’s wife in Eastenders) who won for her film acting. To make matters worse most of the black press went to town on the event with the majority predicting the end of the Awards with headlines such as ‘Scream Nation’ nestling over extremely unflattering articles.
What of Charles Thompson you may say? Well, his Facebook states that you should judge the character of a man by how many he times he can get up after being knocked down, and what a knockdown 2004 proved to be!
Well everybody loves a comeback story and that’s exactly what happened over the next few years. Rather than cry in his soup this extremely resilient character took a careful note of who had supported him during the events of that fateful night and understood that despite the fair-weather nature of many who had been his friend only hours before, there were those who stood resolutely beside him as things had fallen apart. Some of those people included 2003 Screen Nation winner, the award winning playwright and actor Kwame Kwei-Armah, star of Waking the Dead, Wil Johnson, and Cyril Nri the former top cop of The Bill. These last two actors would go on to win future Screen Nation awards for their acting and a place in the public’s affection for many years to come.
Since those difficult days the event has gone from strength to strength starting with a glamorous yet low key affair in 2005 at the Prince Charles Cinema off Leicester Square. That event saw the newly honoured Dame Kelly Holmes in attendance, with the Edric Connor Award presented to the much loved veteran Liverpudlian actor Paul Barber and the Outstanding Contribution Award being presented to Melvin van Peebles, ‘the Godfather of Black Cinema’ no less and father of much loved Hollywood actor/director Mario van Peebles.
2006 saw the 4th Awards hosted by Josie D’Arby and Colin Salmon and return to TV with a broadcast on Sky 3 and Sky Movies of a truly grand event held at the London Hilton, Park Lane. Winners picking up awards on the night included the gorgeous Thandie Newton for her fantastic performance in the Oscar winning Crash, Suzanne Packer for her role in Casualty, Noel Clarke writer of Kidulthood, Pikki Fearon producer of Rollin’ with the Nines and Clive Curtis, Britain’s first black Stuntman. The notable winner of the night and current co-record holder of the most wins (3) was Adewale Akinnuoye Agbaje (Mr Eko from Lost and co-star of Get Rich or Die Trying). Guests included Adrian Lester, Aml Ameen, Mica Paris, Baroness Amos (former leader of the House of Lords), Ainsley Harriott, Jocelyn Jee Esien then of the 3 Non Blondes, seminal director Don Letts, pop stars Simon Webbe, Sway and Keisha White, talk show queen Trisha Goddard and many many others. The best ever show some say.
On the other hand those of you who were at the Awards in 2007 may well still be talking about that magical night, as many such as journalist and broadcaster Henry Bonsu, who uniquely has been at every show, have described it as the best one yet and even better than the Mobo’s of the same year. Once again broadcast on Sky, the 5th Screen Nation Awards saw a galaxy of stars in attendance at the Hilton London Metropole on Edgware Road. Anyone who is anyone was there, from winners and nominees such as Freema Agyeman, Ashley Walters, Angelica Bell, John Barnes, Makosi and Dizzee Rascal to guest presenters as diverse as Linford Christie, Lord Taylor of Warwick, Charlie from Big Brother (remember her, no we didnt think so), Oscar winning director Stephen Frears, Miss Black Britain and the iconic TV film critic Barry Norman.
A truly memorable honour was made to Roots in its 30th anniversary year and seminal news broadcaster Moira Stuart was rightly given a standing ovation for her many years service to British news broadcasting. But without a doubt the highlight of the evening was seeing the likes of Clint Eastwood, Bill Duke, Cedric the Entertainer, Don Cheadle and Russell Simmons etc praise the legend that is Morgan Freeman, winner of the 2007 Outstanding Contribution Award. Wow!
After a bumpy start, the Screen Nation Awards has grown to become something the British film & television community should be very proud of and whilst distinctly designed to reward the black sector it still remains an event for everyone and is without a doubt ’the’ event promoting diversity within film & TV.
Possibly as a reflection of the landscape it inhabits, the Screen Nation Awards can never be perfect and yet despite limited support from the industry it honours, the event provides a unique platform for recognising excellence in the UK film & TV community and more importantly provides young people with a broader range of black British role models to aspire to. The awards continue to be glamorous fun filled enlightening nights of celebration and move from strength to strength as does the awards organisation, The Foundation.
As time moves on Screen Nation looks forward to the future and anyone with vision can see that future is inAfrica. In a very influential list, by leading thinkers inAmerica, of things to watch out for in 2008, Africa came out as number 1 and Nollywood was high up in that list also. With that in mind it should come as no surprise that Screen Nation has been planning to move into Africa for a number of years now.
After a number of successful trips to West Africa by key Screen Nation executives it has been agreed by the Executive Committee that an inaugural Screen Nation Africa event will take place in Nigeria within a year or so. Designed as a truly Pan-African event, the first Awards will showcase the W. African regional talent base alongside a truly stellar cast of top draw African-British, African-European and African-American film & TV stars. We can’t wait!
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