Throughout Black History Month, we'll be celebrating the achievements of iconic black Britons you may not know. The first is Horace Ové. Never heard of him? Well, have a read to find out how he paved the way for black British film.
Ové was born in Trinidad and Tobago in 1939 but came to UK with a wave of Caribbean artists and intellectuals in the 1950’s and 60’s. He spent time studying here before moving to Rome to work as a painter and filmmakers’ apprentice.
His photography career kicked off when he returned to Britain, where he captured a bunch of events as they happened. This included the first Black Power meeting with Stokely Carmichael, Allen Ginsberg and Michael X, and the birth of the Notting Hill Carnival which he documented throughout the years.
His career in directing also took off, and he quickly became one of the leading black independent filmmakers in the UK during the post-war period.
Ové directed many short films and documentaries before directing his feature film, Pressure (1976). He was later confirmed as being the first black director to direct a full-length drama feature film in Britain.
Pressure centres on Tony, a second-generation immigrant, who struggles to find a job despite his academic qualifications. This, along with the frustration with the institutional racism that alienates him from the bourgeois and the influence of his radical brother, Colin, lead him to joining the Black Power movement.
The film highlights scenes of police brutality and corruption against black people. Two years later, the British Film Institute (BFI), who initially backed the film, banned it, before eventually releasing it again.
What makes this film so impactful is the way it portrays and deals with institutional racism without over simplifying it. Many of the scenes were also improvised or filmed without people knowing the cameras were there which shows just how real and gritty their experiences were.
Ové was made a Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (CBE) for his contributions to UK film in 2007 and has won many other awards since.
His legacy continues through his son, Zak Ové, who curated the Get up, Stand Up exhibition at Somerset House. The exhibition celebrated 50 years of black creativity and beyond, starting with Horace Ové himself.
There have been many films and TV series depicting black experiences and culture in the UK since Pressure including Top Boy, Kidulthood and Chewing Gum. All of which wouldn't have the platform they do without the input of Horace Ové.
Keep an eye out to see who else we will be celebrating this month.