Image: Michael Ohajuru, Dr Maria del Pilar Kaladeen, Dr Eva Namusoke, Dr Sumita Mukherjee
As part of this year’s Being Human humanities festival, academics from the Institute of Commonwealth Studies (ICWS) and the University of Bristol, have joined forces to form the ‘Archive to blockbuster four’ (A2BFour). During an evening event at Senate House on 21 November, the team will pitch four ideas for films in an attempt to show their audience how the stories they’ve unearthed during their research could form the basis of four powerful blockbuster movies and help create a more diverse film industry. Below, Dr Maria del Pilar Kaladeen, one of the A2BFour, introduces the project in the first of a series of Talking Humanities articles.
The ‘Archive to blockbuster’ project has been inspired by #OscarsSoWhite, and is an attempt to demonstrate to the film industry that the seeds of exciting cinema can be found in the archival history of black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) groups. Our work, which celebrates people of colour as the heroes of their own stories, crosses four continents with dramas set in England, Guyana, India and Uganda.
On the 21 November, Sumita Mukherjee (University of Bristol), Eva Namusoke, Michael Ohajuru and myself, all from ICWS, will be pitching four ideas for films, based on our academic research, to members of the public, film and media professionals.
Michael Ohajuru’s inspiring research on John Blanke, a black trumpeter at the courts of Henry VII and Henry VIII, will form the basis of his pitch. Sumita Mukherjee will present her work on the life of the activist and poet Sarojini Naidu, often referred to as the ‘Nightingale of India’. Eva Namusoke’s pitch for ‘Songs on Namirembe Hill’ tells the dramatic story of the last week in the life of Ugandan Archbishop Janani Luwum, and I will take the audience through the dynamic final decades Guyana’s system of indenture. Following these short presentations, we will take questions from the audience and feedback from a panel of four industry experts.
What is it that we hope to achieve with our event and what do we want its legacy to be? The A2BFour’s aim is not necessarily to persuade writers to turn our stories into screenplays, rather we are more interested in this event from a public engagement perspective. After all, that’s what the Being Human festival is all about.
Far too often the work of historians is circulated through journals and books that are only read by other academics. For us, the opportunity to share our research with a wider audience is hugely important. Over the coming months we will be promoting our event widely and hope that audiences will be won over by the way we have chosen to communicate our academic research.
As far as our event’s legacy is concerned, we want to contribute to the current conversation around the lack of diversity in the film industry by emphasising the wealth of BAME histories that exist beyond our four stories. With this in mind, in the weeks leading up to 21 November, we will be broadcasting short films from Senate House library that highlight other research that has the capacity to go from ‘archive to blockbuster’. Our intention is for these films to be publicly available long after the festival.
Join Talking Humanities again on 4 October when Eva Namusoke will tell us more about her pitch for ‘Songs on Namirembe Hill’, and why she thinks her research has blockbuster movie potential.
Dr Maria del Pilar Kaladeen is an associate fellow at the Institute of Commonwealth Studies in London. Her academic work has focused on the system of indenture in Guyana and its representation in colonial literature. She left school at 15 and returned to education as an adult. While writing her doctorate, she trained as an ESOL (English to Speakers of Other Languages) tutor and has had the privilege of working with Londoners from all over the world. One of her interests as an early-career academic is public and community engagement; her own experiences in education have inspired her to work for inclusion in the academy. She has designed and managed academic projects that involved knowledge exchange activities with London’s homeless and badly-housed.