Lenny Henry: BBC ‘Oppressive’ and ‘Very, Very White’, Will Smith ‘Not Black’

Sir Lenny Henry
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Comedian Sir Lenny Henry has labeled the BBC an “oppressive institution” and “very, very white”, urging it to change and diversify.

The BAFTA winning founder of Comic Relief also said black actors who do progress in the media and show business stop “being black” once they find success.

He singled out the Hollywood star of the Men in Black film franchise, Will Smith. “If a movie makes more than a hundred dollars, some black people stop being black – they ­become Will Smith,” Mr. Henry told the Sunday People.

“I worked at the BBC for 35 years before I had a meeting with anyone who looks like me,” recalled Mr. Henry, claiming: “The only people like me were cleaning the ­corridors and that is not right.

“You walk into the Beeb and it is very, very white. That is not anybody’s fault. You can be in an oppressive institution and not be an oppressor.

“All the diversity work that has been going on is appreciated – but until ­behind the camera is sorted out you are not going to see much change,” he said.

He alleged that TV and movies fail to represent a multicultural society, adding: “Until writers and directors reflect what is happening they won’t represent us properly.”

His demands come just a week after Breitbart London revealed how the BBC is advertising highly desirable, paid internship to “black, Asian and non-white minority ethnic backgrounds” only.

A Conservative government white paper on the BBC, released last week, said the corporation will be required to give greater focus to “under-served” audiences, such as black and Asian viewers, with diversity “enshrined’’ in the new charter.

The BBC is already going to extraordinary lengths to rewrite historical facts in an attempt to be more “inclusive”, recently casing Margaret of Anjou, the wife of King Henry VI, as a women of black African decent in a new BBC2 drama.

And yesterday, it it was reported that the BBC is striving for more “religious diversity”, after an internal review concluded Christianity features too prominently in its religious output.

Mr. Henry’s rant then turned to the other side of the Atlantic. “The Oscars were ridiculous,” he said. “The only brown person nominated was the bear in the Leo DiCaprio film The Revenant.”

At the time of the Oscars, black Star Wars actor John Boyega, 24, claimed: “To complain about what is going on is not going to benefit us. Be the change you want to be.”

But Mr. Lenny hit back, putting forward the case for positive discrimination: “John is in Star Wars so he can say that. Meritocracy works on a level playing field. But what if it’s not level and people who don’t look like you are making the decisions?” he said.

Adding: “This is not personal. This is for people who get doors slammed in their face because it does not fit, or they are in a wheelchair, or they are a woman, transgender or gay.”