Originally, the posters were just a private effort among a group of teens who were tired of seeing black faces shut out of British media. But their designs—movie posters of popular films and TV shows remixed to show primarily black casts—became a major moment in London this week when their posters were displayed prominently in bus stops around South London.
As The Guardian reports, the posters were the work of Legally Black, an activist group formed by four Brixton teens: Liv Francis-Cornibert, Shiden Tekle, Bel Matos da Costa and Kofi Asante. On an assignment from Advocacy Academy, a group that helps channel youth anger into political activism, Legally Black decided to make the posters to vent their frustration about the lack of black representation in British media.
The Guardian notes that the posters were originally supposed to line the walls of the teens’ rooms, until the “subversive advertising organization” Special Group Patrol found the posters online. The group, which had previously run campaigns targeting police corruptions, loved the posters and wanted to amplify Legally Black’s message. Special Group Patrol enlarged the posters to mimic real movie billboards and, on Wednesday, placed them throughout bus stops in London’s Brixton neighborhood.
They were a huge hit.
The Legally Black designs focus mostly on British TV shows and films, including the James Bond film Skyfall, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Skins, The In-Betweeners, Doctor Who and Titanic.
A tagline on each poster includes the statement: “If you’re surprised, it means you don’t see enough black people in major roles. Join us in our mission for better black representation in the media.”
Shiden Tekle, 17, one of Legally Black’s members, explained to The Guardian why getting this message out was so important to him:
“I’ve been racially abused since I was 12,” said Tekle, who is studying for A-levels in government politics, sociology and media studies at La Retraite sixth form in Lambeth. “And we are always looking at the media and never seeing any positive representations of black people. In big films, black characters are often playing criminals and drug dealers, and that quickly conditions people to believe that all black people are like that.
Legally Black’s Liv Francis-Cornibert echoed that concern to Mashable and added that emphasizing British film and TV was important to the group:
“At the moment I’m in love with Black Panther,” she said. “It’s phenomenal, but I feel like a lot of the time when we say things like ‘Oscars so white’ it’s focused on America and American media.”
The numbers back up their claims. The British Film Institute found that only 218 lead roles in over 1,000 British films released between 2006 and 2016 were played by black actors (as The Guardian notes, there were 45,000 total roles, meaning that black actors played only 0.5 percent of all the available roles in that time period).
The lack of representation in British TV and film has pushed top black British actors, like David Oyelowo, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Idris Elba and Daniel Kaluuya, to try their luck in Hollywood, where they’ve been met with critical and commercial success.
The posters, which featured Tekle and his friends and their families, cost about 15o pounds sterling to make.
Of course, some colonizers completely missed the point. David Vance, who works for the British far-right site Alt News Media, asked why they couldn’t have some young white activists re-create movie posters with white actors in the lead role. “Too racist?” he asked.
David, my dear, then those would just be the original pos—never mind.
Unfortunately, as of Friday, the Legally Black posters were no longer up. They had been replaced, The Guardian writes, by ads for McDonald’s.