‘Darkie Day’ film on blackface to include academics’ poem challenging ‘institutional indifference’ in the HE sector

The forthcoming documentary film ‘Darkie Day’, being produced by Guerrilla Films, headed by David Nicholas Wilkinson, and created by the talented, self-taught filmmaker Michael Jenkins, is to feature the poem written by Dr Deborah Gabriel in critique of the indifference to blackface racism by universities.

mj2Jenkins’ (pictured left) inspiration for the documentary came after a visit to Padstow in 2014 to attend Cornwall’s ‘Mummer’s Day’ festival, which was originally known as ‘Darkie Day’, because White residents wear blackface. He  was disturbed not only at the wearing of blackface but also the songs sung by the White residents which include racist lyrics such as “Where do all the good niggers go?”

This is when he started filming for Darkie Day, which featured in a BBC Radio 4 documentary in the Untold series [Listen Here]. Jenkins has been trying to make the documentary for some time through his own company 8th Sense Media, and is excited to have joined forces with Guerrilla Films. He told Dr Gabriel:

“Darkie Day is a microcosm of a bigger issue in the whole western world and that is how Black people have been and still are portrayed…essentially I want this film to really challenge people’s perceptions…”

The documentary will focus on the history of blackface in popular culture from the US, including the Black and White Minstrel show and the Golliwog phenomenon and will examine the history of White actors blacking up to play Shakespeare’s Othello.

It will also look at Blackface festivals outside the UK in Netherlands, Spain and South Africa and the Belgium tradition of selling cakes called ‘Nigger Tits’.

Jenkins told Dr Gabriel: “The infamous Black and white minstrel show for me was key to developing general attitudes towards Black people in this country…and other remnants from the Empire.”

david-nicholas-wilkinson125x175Wilkinson (pictured left), Chairman of Guerrilla Films, has a formidable reputation for specialising in films perceived as difficult or controversial by other distributors. He has been involved in producing and distributing over 100 films through cinema, television, DVD and online. Credits include The First Film; How to Change the World; Retribution and James Herriot’s Yorkshire.

Wilkinson was unaware that blackface occurred in the higher education sector until he came across Dr Gabriel’s poem, In Critique of Blackface and Institutional Indifference to Racism. He then got in contact to ask if the poem could be included in the documentary and if she would agree to be interviewed for the film.

There has since been a number of discussions between the two, notably on the impact the documentary could have within and beyond the higher education sector. Dr Gabriel is planning to launch a campaign calling for universities to ban blackface and to do more to address racial inequalities.

Wilkinson told Dr Gabriel: “I will make sure that the impact of this film is such that every single university, college and educational establishment in the UK bans anyone blacking their face again.”

Commenting on the documentary Dr Gabriel said: “I am delighted to be joining forces with David and Michael. A documentary on this topic is long overdue. Wearing blackface is an insidious form of racism which has a well-documented historical context linked to legacies of slavery and colonisation.

“It is the worst form of cultural appropriation which both mocks and disrespects people of African descent who are mimicked in this process. As such it has no place in a culturally democratic society, which is what we should be aspiring to as an ethnically diverse nation, and especially no place in the higher education sector.

“I hope the documentary serves as a wake-up call to university leaders who should issue explicit statements banning blackface and making transparent the measures they are taking to address racial inequalities including the prevailing Eurocentric culture and curriculum that students of colour across the country have been challenging for the past few years.”

While filming for the Darkie Day documentary is in progress, Guerrilla films are seeking funds for its completion. This is expected to be financed in part through funding, with the remainder being raised through the Government’s Seed Enterprise Investment Scheme (SEIS).

This enables early stage companies to raise equity finance by offering 50% tax relief on the purchase of shares, providing the investor is a tax payer with a tax liability to offset the relief against. So someone investing £1000 would really only pay £500 as £500 would be deducted from tax due.

Dr Gabriel believes that raising money for the documentary through the SEIS allows people who support the film, who support equality and cultural democracy to have a stake in it. She has pledged to personally invest £200 in the film and says:

“If I was wealthy or won the lottery I would happily finance the whole film, which will cost around £350k, but the truth is that we don’t have to be wealthy to make a difference in society – when many people come together for a common purpose, together we can make great things happen.”

Email us if you are planning to invest in the film, tell us your name and email (will not be printed) the amount (does not have to be printed) and it will be added to this article.

Those who have pledged to invest so far:

Dr Deborah Gabriel,  Black British Academics 

Raona Williams, Black British Academics

Maureen Taylor, Black British Academics

Karen Carberry, Black British Academics

Feature Pic: Former Prime Minster David Cameron poses with a Border Morris Side wearing blackface in Banbury, near his Oxfordshire constituency see:

Morris dancing, blackface paint and racism: why it’s time to stop and think; RS21 

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In Critique of Blackface and institutional indifference to racism
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