Empire is the biggest movie magazine in the world… Probably.
We gave you a little history when we discussed the awards fortunes of black British talent last year in our Caste As Black series . This year, we thought we’d write from a slightly different angle, starting with a little more history.
After its launch in 1989, Empire gained a reputation for advanced, in-depth movie news and exclusives as well as consistent and generally considered reviews of film, DVDs and games.
In 1996, the seven year-old magazine took film appreciation to another level with the help of sponsor Sony Ericsson and subsequently, Jameson Irish Whiskey, in 2009. The Empire movie awards was born, based purely on the motivation of the magazine’s readership to vote for their favourite movie-related categories. It proved a risk well-taken, since it turns out that the Empire readership is a highly motivated demographic. Whilst reflecting the mainstream award favourites in some respects, the expression of the (mainly) UK movie magazine-buying public’s actual preferences makes this a unique and completely open competition. From the wide initial vote, a shortlist of nominees is compiled, then the public is asked to vote again from that shortlist and a winner is created. For example, in 2013, Martin Freeman’s Bilbo Baggins earned him the ‘Best Actor’ Empy over Daniel Day-Lewis who took home both the Academy Award and the BAFTA that year.
Consequently, this awards ceremony attracts an international guest list comparable to the BAFTAs each year! The attendance of major stars like Tom Cruise, Dame Helen Mirren, Sam Mendes, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Emma Thomson, Tim Burton and Danny De Vito in recent years alone, shows the unique mutual appreciation that the Empire Awards have come to represent. The Fans show their appreciation by voting – twice; the Talent show their appreciation by attending. Think about it! The Empys (named the JEMAs in our article last year) are the best reflection of the adult movie-going public’s love for them as opposed to other more juvenile public voting-based awards like MTV and Nickelodeon… So, now, at the end of March, for the past 19 years the Empys close out the awards season and ends with a humungous wrap party.
This year, The British Blacklist got involved when a Team TBB Duo were invited along by the Editor himself. We walked the red carpet, self-conscious under the gaze of the on-lookers checking to make sure they didn’t know us, and confirmed by the lack of press camera flashes. Zoom lenses remained resolutely erect, skyward (in the threatening rain, no less), as we passed by and entered the beautiful venue. We were greeted by the very welcoming and gracious staff. The reception gradually filled with guests. Film makers, actors, press and industry guests seemed universally, genuinely relaxed and enjoying the event, possibly aided by the endless whiskey-based cocktails – one raspberry-based, a whiskey sour and a whiskey and ginger.
As film lovers, it was a remarkable feeling to be in the company of people you have grown up watching, crushing on and rooting for, for years. Despite their collective fame, these globally recognised ‘ordinary people’ were approachable and gracious… And really, really well-groomed! Personal space, not to mention dignity, was respected and observed at all times. It made it all the more enjoyable, actually, to see stars and people of power genuinely enjoying a party.
There are many regulars who attend every year. Yet, the very nature of the beast is that those whom have had a hot year or two in film can also be reasonably expected to be there. With this in mind Team TBB were hoping that the strides made by black British artists in recent years would have penetrated the Empire readership demographic of 15-44 year old (82.9%), professional (72.8% ABC1), males (77%) . In fact, we could think of a few artists who should be universally recognised from critically acclaimed and blockbuster films, and we were anticipating seeing them there (those with * against their names were in attendance) :
- Idris Elba: 28 Weeks Later, RocknRolla, Mandela : Long Walk to Freedom, Pacific Rim, Prometheus, Thor, Thor: The Dark World, No Good Deed, The Gunman (2015), Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015), Bastille Day (2015) and soon to be THE voice of Shere Khan in The Jungle Book (2016). He was also voted People Magazine’s 2nd Sexiest Man Alive, 2013, and 6th in GQ’s 50 best dressed British men 2015.
- Chiwetel Ejiofor – Serenity, Dirty Pretty Things, Kinky Boots, Children of Men, American Gangster, Inside Man, 12 Years a Slave, Half a Yellow Sun, Z for Zachariah (2015)
- *Nicholas Pinnock – Captain America: The First Avenger
- Thandie Newton – Mission Impossible II, Crash, The Pursuit of Happyness, RocknRolla, Run Fat Boy Run, Half a Yellow Sun
- Marianne Jean-Baptiste – Edge of Tomorrow, Robocop
- Sophie Okonedo – Dirty Pretty Things, Hotel Rwanda, Stormbreaker, Scenes of a Sexual Nature
- Colin Salmon – Resident Evil, Resident Evil: Retribution, AVP: Alien vs Predator, Die Another Day, Tomorrow Never Dies, The World Is Not Enough, Shank
- Zaraah Abrahams – Da Sweet Blood of Jesus (Spike Lee)
- *Antonia L. Thomas – The Hybrid
- Noel Clarke – Kidulthood, Adulthood, 4321, Fast Girls, Storage 24, The Anomaly, Star Trek into Darkness
- Adrian Lester – The Day After Tomorrow, Scenes of a Sexual Nature
- Lennie James – The Next Three Days, Colombiana, Snatch, Get On Up
- Shaun Parkes – The Mummy Returns
- Richard Ayoade – The Double
- *Arnold Oceng – Adulthood, The Good Lie (2014)
- Enoch Frost – Skyfall, Hackney’s Finest (2015), Guardians of the Galaxy
- Naomie Harris – Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest & At World’s End, Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom, Skyfall, Spectre(2015), Jungle Book: Origins (2017)
- Steve McQueen – director of Hunger, Shame, 12 Years A Slave
- Jimmy Akingbola – Esio Trot, Hero (2015)
- Nonso Anozie – Atonement, RocknRolla, Cass, Conan The Barbarian, Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit, Cinderella (2015)
- *OT Fagbenle – Triforce Film Festival finalist director M.O.T.H. Also named one of Backstage Magazine’s Top 30 Actors to Watch in 2014 *He was in attendance
- Ashley Walters – Bullet Boy, Get Rich or Die Tryin’
- Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje – GI Joe: The Rise of Cobra, Pompeii, Thor: The Dark World
- Gugu Mbatha-Raw – Belle, Jupiter Ascending
- Two from Selma, one of the most talked-about films of the entire awards season – David Oyelowo and Carmen Ejogo;
- At least six from a jewel made possible by the British Film Institute, the entire main cast of Gone Too Far! – Malachi Kirby , Adelayo Adedayo, Shanika Warren-Markland, O.C. Ukeje; plus director Destiny Ekaragha and screenwriter Bola Agbaje;
- Amma Assante – director of Belle
- Four more from Jupiter Ascending – Nikki Amuka-Bird, Nicholas A Newman, Ariyon Bakare and David Ajala.
Many also have starred in high-profile, critically acclaimed TV or have made their names as stand-out TV actors. This will be increasingly important as Game of Thrones was awarded the Hero award this year and the magazine start their expansion into the high-gloss world of TV box sets:
- Chiwetel Ejiofor – The Shadow Line, Dancing on the Edge
- Idris Elba – Ultraviolet, Luther, The C Word, The Wire (so iconic it doesn’t matter that it ended almost a decade ago in 2008)
- Adrian Lester – Hustle, Girlfriends (USA), Bonekickers, Red Band Society
- Lennie James – Buried, The State Within, Jericho, The Prisoner, Human Target, Line of Duty, Low Winter Sun, Hung, The Walking Dead, Critical (2015)
- Shaun Parkes – The inspector Linley Mysteries, Harley Street, Moses Jones, Identity, Small Island, The River
- Noel Clarke – Auf Wiedersehen Pet, Dr Who, Chasing Shadows
- Thandie Newton – The Slap
- Naomie Harris – Small Island, White Teeth
- Sophie Okonedo – Mrs Mandela, The Slap, The Escape Artist
- *Nicholas Pinnock – Top Boy, Mandela: The Prison Years, Fortitude (2015)
- Jimmy Akingbola – Holby Blue, The Crouches, Holby City, Doctors, Rev
- *Arnold Oceng – Top Boy
- *Antonia L Thomas – Misfits, Fleming, The Musketeers, Scrotal Recall, Northern Soul
- Mariane Jean-Baptiste – Private Practice, Without a Trace, Broadchurch (2015)
- Colin Salmon – Hex, Bad Girls, Arrow, Law and Order: UK, 24: Live Another Day, Some Girls, No Offence
- Zaraah Abrahams – Bedlam, Waterloo Road
- *OT Fagbenle – Material Girl, FM, Quick Cuts, Looking, The Interceptor (2015)
- Ashley Walters – Hustle, Outcasts, Inside Men, Top Boy, Truckers
- Don Gilet – 55 Degrees North, Babyfather
- Michael Obiora – Hotel Babylon, Dr Who, Misfits, Fortitude (2015)
- Freema Agyeman – Dr Who, Law and Order: UK, The Carrie Diaries
- Nathan Stewart-Jarrett – Misfits, Utopia
- Lenora Crichlow – Sugar Rush, Being Human, Material Girl
- Zawe Ashton – Case Histories, Fresh Meat, Not Safe For Work (2015)
- Nathalie Emmanuel – Game of Thrones (currently)
44 possibilities right off the top of our heads – some more likely than others, granted. And in the real world, work schedules (especially if your star is indeed on the rise), sickness, shyness, agoraphobia or moving to the States for the sake of your career, can curb the turnout of even the most determined party goer. Still, had all of these actors been invited and attended, it would have amounted to only around 6.5% of the approximate total that night. As it was, it was closer to a disappointing 1.64%… and only half were acting talent* (0.82%). This year, Gugu Mbatha-Raw was the only person of colour nominated (Belle). It was in the Best Newcomer category and she was not in attendance. Now, we absolutely concede that we don’t have access to the guest lists and we might have missed a couple in the room. But, Empire do publish many of their official pictures from the red carpet, the dining room, the stage, the press room and the photo booth (when present) every year , and we couldn’t find pictures of any AfriCarib guests anywhere – not even as photo-bombers… for several years now!
Yet, I have to say that I am not disheartened.
In terms of job and gender diversity, it was an absolute winner for the black British community, represented as we were by actors (3) and actresses (2) of TV and film, press (both female), sponsor (female) and industry executives (male). Everyone we told about the existence of The British Blacklist and its function were interested and engaging and very happy to pose with us, plus our logo, when we remembered to ask [See our Instagram page ]. Hey! Networking event or not, it was still a party and everyone was actually there to celebrate!
But, it strikes me that the most cause for optimism is probably the appointment of Empire Editor Number Nine. Last October, it was announced that Mr. Morgan Rees would be succeeding Mark Dinning who, to date, was the longest-serving (8 years), most award-winning (12) and, arguably, the most successful editor, having increased hard copy circulation by over 40 000; personally won the British Society of Magazine Editors’ Editor of the Year award 5 times; and acquired Steven Spielberg as guest editor for the 2009 20th Anniversary Issue. Hmmm, I’d like to see his record on diversity, because despite having had a female editor in the past (Number Six), the magazine’s female writer numbers are pretty poor too! However, as Mr Rees anticipated taking the helm, he said, “… The team are exceptional and I’m looking forward to working with them in pushing the title into new areas of growth and development…” 
Mr. Rees invited Team TBB fully aware of his demographics, having a pretty good idea of who was coming to his party in general, and knowing that we would be the only representatives of the UK black press. The event itself is covered by mainstream press, entertainment websites and TV entertainment news bites like Access, but their coverage is limited to the red carpet only. We were invited as VIP guests. In my mind, that is the very definition of transparency and a commitment to a more diverse future. Having been ignored by BAFTA for the last 2 years and aware that the black press in any form are rarely admitted via application, let alone by invitation, we fully appreciate this, our first mainstream industry acknowledgement.
It’s interesting that through this unlikely community tool, black British talent really could gain the cinematic recognition they deserve over their American counterparts, who still dominate so many movie awards, with many either chosen by industry or film making peers, or have murky processes that do not make clear how ‘winners’ are chosen. TV awards fare much better in this respect. Each year, I cast my vote – twice. As a black British lover of film, do you?