Live from Abu Dhabi Connect the World takes you on a journey across continents, investigating the stories that are changing our world.
As '12 Years a Slave' took top honors at the BAFTA Awards, all eyes were on the film's black cast – and especially director Steve McQueen. If he wins the Best Director prize at next month's Academy Awards, McQueen will become the first black director ever to win.
Atika Shubert spoke with John Akomfrah, a Former Governor of the British Film Institute. She asked him what McQueen's BAFTA win meant for diversity in the film industry.
"I think Steve winning is confirmation of a trend taking place anyway," Akomfrah said. "And by that I mean, for instance, 12 years ago, if you had a film called '12 Years a Slave,' the idea would be that it would go to a white director because it's big and so it's appropriate that it should go to a white director. The fact that a major African diaspora story is done by a black director of black British heritage and descent is, I think, significant."
Atika also asked what Akomfrah would consider to be a true sign of diversity in cinema.
"If Steve's example became a trend, so that there were more people like Steve," he replied. "If a range of black acting talent continues to be both affirmed and endorsed by both BAFTA and the Academy."
One of the year's most talked-about films revisits a dark chapter in American history. '12 Years a Slave' tells the story of Solomon Northup – a man born free, but sold into slavery in 19th century America. The film won big at the Golden Globes, and is nominated for nine Oscars, including Best Film and Best Director.
Becky spoke with John Ridley, the screenwriter behind '12 Years a Slave' – who himself is nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay. Ridley said that although writing the script was challenging, he had strong original material to work with – in the form of Solomon Northup's memoir.
"Solomon's memoir is a truly special document. The way he speaks, the eloquence, the depth of reportage, at a time when many Americans were not familiar with the institution of slavery," Ridley said.
Becky asked Ridley about one of the main criticisms of the film – its depiction of brutal violence. Ridley says that response from viewers tells him the filmmakers have done their job in making audiences aware. "We had no idea what the system of slavery is like, and for a lot of us our recollection of slavery is 'Gone with the Wind.' It's 'Song of the South.' It's 'Birth of a Nation. And for people to genuinely – not in a dismissive way – say 'this is powerful stuff' – it really sort of tells me that we as people have not done a very good job at educating ourselves on what it takes to enslave people."