BLACK WALES; after Halle Berry and Denzil Washington's Oscar Success, We Find out What It Means to Be Black and Welsh Today.

Wales On Sunday (Cardiff, Wales), March 31, 2002 | Go to article overview

BLACK WALES; after Halle Berry and Denzil Washington's Oscar Success, We Find out What It Means to Be Black and Welsh Today.


Byline: VICKY SHAW and DAVID HUGHES

HALLE Berry and Denzil Washington's historic Oscar wins are expected to inspire a new generation of black actors to pursue their dreams.

In a highly-charged emotional speech from Berry, the first black star to pick up the Best Actress award, she said her win meant "doors had been opened" for ethnic minorities to achieve their ambitions.

VICKY SHAW and DAVID HUGHES talked to four prominent black people from Wales about their success and how their colour has influenced their hopes and dreams. . .

ACTRESS RAKIE AYOLA

EMOTIONAL Halle Berry was joined in tears by a Welsh actress 6,000 miles across the Atlantic as she picked up her Oscar in Hollywood.

Rakie Ayola - who has starred in EastEnders and a host other TV shows - has admitted she cried too as star Halle picked up her award.

Halle has born a flood of criticism for her tears but Rakie knows the years of battling which caused the tears to flow.

Rakie, who grew on the Ely council estate in Cardiff, said: "As a black woman trying to achieve in this career, I know exactly why she was crying.

"I thought 'this is just the most amazing thing'.

"Finally it's about recognising people for their work regardless of the colour of their skin - and not thinking, 'maybe not this year'."

Rakie, 33, stayed up to watch the Oscar ceremony live and shared the tears when Halle won the best actress award for the film Monster's Ball.

The film is the tale of a racist white man who falls in love with a black woman.

Now Rakie is calling for black people in the profession to be better marketed in Britain - in the hope of achieving the same success as Halle and fellow black Oscar-winner Denzil Washington.

Rakie says the problem is that black actors are not promoted in the same way as their white counterparts.

Rakie lists as a prominent role as a barrister in primetime soap EastEnders and fronted BBC Wales arts programme Double Yellow on her CV.

But she says black actors and actresses Britain still face more obstacles than those in America.

She said: "There are a number of black faces on the television and the situation has improved greatly since the 1970s.

"But black actors are not profiled in the same way.

"If you get a show with six stars and one is black you are more likely to see interviews with the five white actors.

"That still shocks me and I watch it through gritted teeth.

"They are not being sold as a reason to watch."

Rakie went to Glan Ely comprehensive school before studying at the Welsh College of Music and Drama.

She caught the acting bug at a young age and took part in youth theatres and choirs.

She said: "There weren't many black kids but it was fine. I did not have to do anything to be different but no one was ever outright rude to me.

"What struck me was the kind of kids who joined the choir - the kind of kids whose parents lovingly drove them back and forth while I was getting the bus from Ely.

"My side of Cardiff and the black community were not well represented.

"We once sang in St David's Hall and I was the only black face in a sea of 300 voices.

"I remember thinking this is very strange. I just got on with it.

"I did not panic but it's a bit sad."

Rakie, who now lives in Greenwich, London, with her partner, said it is now up to those in the "creative process" to get behind black actors.

She said: "Those in the periphery and the creative process and the institutions will have to look to themselves.

"If you look at the figures there is a disproportionate number of black presenters - the figures are fine.

"You need to look further than that.

"When black kids watch the telly like I did in Ely it would be great for them to see someone and think I would like to be like him or her. …

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