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Shades of Sussex: A Celebration of Ethnic Minorities

Updated: Apr 29, 2023

A blog article by Sophie McMahon reflecting on the recent showing of the short film ‘Shades of Sussex’ at The Depot in Lewes.

In the month of October, The Depot in Lewes has hosted a series of events for Black History Month. One particularly interesting event was a short film made and funded by Diversity Resource International (DRI) and directed by Dawit Gebreyesus titled ‘Shades of Sussex’. The film, followed by a short conversation, was aimed at spotlighting and celebrating ethnic minorities living in Sussex.

There were a number of contributors: John Agard, Grace Nichols, Dr Yaa Asare, Razia Aziz, Anuja Contanporay, Mebrak Gehbreweldi, Rozelle Bowerman and Ruqia Osma who - through a series of talking heads - discussed their experience of migrating and living in the UK.

Whilst it felt predominantly positive at the start, it was clear that the director chose to leave the most compelling and well-founded discussion for the latter half. Questions of identity arose, particularly amongst the mixed race participants, who spoke of their struggle with self- lacking a sense of belonging both within the UK and their country of origin. Some even discussed moving from their birth country to another before arriving in Britain in their teens, conflating the mixed thoughts and feelings they had already experienced.

John Agard, an esteemed Afro-Guyanese playwright, poet, and children's writer, was an especially interesting contributor. In particular, I felt his discussion of Caribbean architecture as being very ‘outward’ in comparison to Britain’s terrace houses which were labelled as uninviting and unfriendly was exceptionally thought provoking.

Subsequent to the end of the film, there was time for conversation on how it could be improved (as it had already been dubbed a work in progress by the host). Audience members talked of how the film needed to increase its diversity of voices, drawing on those from different socio-economic backgrounds as well as from a variety of age groups. The host was confident that with the help of funding and the backing from other organisations, the project could fulfil these aims. There was also added reassurance from the audience that the film had provided an excellent foundation for ongoing dialogues.

Many of the participants in the film were from an arts background. It was wonderful to hear of their success in spite of the many complexities that surround their identity and sense of belonging within Britain, and more specifically, Sussex. I would like to share a poem by John Agard titled ‘Half-Caste’, which nicely reflects his discussion within the film:

Excuse me

Standing on one leg

I’m half-caste

Explain yuself

wha yu mean

when yu say half-caste

yu mean when Picasso

mix red an green

is a half-caste canvas/

explain yuself

wha yu mean

when yu say half-caste

yu mean when light an shadow

mix in de sky

is a half-caste weather/

well in dat case

England weather

nearly always half-caste

in fact some o dem cloud

half-caste till dem overcast

so spiteful dem don’t want de sun pass

ah rass/

explain yuself

wha yu mean

when yu say half-caste

yu mean Tchaikovsky

sit down at dah piano

an mix a black key

wid a white key

is a half-caste symphony/

Explain yuself

wha yu mean

Ah listening to yu wid de keen

half of mih ear

Ah looking at u wid de keen

half of mih eye

and when I'm introduced to yu

I'm sure you'll understand

why I offer yu half-a-hand

an when I sleep at night

I close half-a-eye

consequently when I dream

I dream half-a-dream

an when moon begin to glow

I half-caste human being

cast half-a-shadow

but yu come back tomorrow

wid de whole of yu eye

an de whole of yu ear

and de whole of yu mind

an I will tell yu

de other half

of my story

As Black History Month comes to an end, DRI are inviting members of the community to an evening of discussion and reflection with their event: Time for Change on 30th October. The celebration is being held in partnership with Lewes Town Council and The Depot. It will include a panel discussion hosted by Patrick Nyikavaranda, a director at DRI. Which will welcome poet/spoken word artists Priss Nash and Annie Whilby, Vandu Languages’ Deputy Director Aaron Clarke, and retired footballer Victor Anichebe. If you would like to attend, click here to get your free ticket.

Shades of Sussex is available to view below:

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