SINCE Belfast rediscovered itself as a top filming destination, many interracial casts have featured in big and low budget movies. Over the years, thousands of scenes have been shot in Belfast and other parts of Northern Ireland. In 2011, the popstar Rihanna shot her We Found Love hit in the New Lodge, a location with residential high-rise buildings.
She was welcomed there without any odd preconditions and she loved it. The locals were happy to see her. This was quite different from her negative experience at a Co Down farm owned by a DUP councillor who requested her to stop shooting the music video because it was too raunchy!
How is a 21st century popular music footage supposed to look? Many a film critique would probably have trailer trucks of opinions about how Rihanna was received in Co Down, a world that I have seen at its best and worst (my own experience in a supermarket at Springhill, Bangor). Perhaps these are isolated cases. But can you imagine what Rihanna felt when she was booted out of the farm dancing and wearing sexy things? Cardy Band Megan Thee Stallion, those two trophies of daring black music, would not have lasted a couple of seconds on that farm that said no to Rihanna.
On a positive side, imagine how much Northern Ireland could bring when farmers and other land owners decide not to be too conservative about the props and styles of music genres that international artists can bring. Not forgetting the impact in job creation and a sense of happiness that some dull places within the country are re-energised by fantastic art, music and films.
The first time I was at a shoot in Belfast it was a tremendous experience in something that can be a numbingly boring environment for many. A BBC drama series was being shot in a city square in Belfast. The film, Small Island, was an adaptation of a book by the late bestselling author Andrea Levy. The main theme of the film was the Windrush experience of Jamaicans who sailed to England during and after the Second World War.
A good film, it was being produced when the ink hadn’t even dried properly on the book and that’s how serious and sought-after Levy’s writings were taken by filmmakers and TV companies.
So in 2010 I attended a fast paced packed audition for a part in the movie. I was an extra with a short speaking part. It was my second film as an extra right here in Belfast accompanied by the usual class segregation of filmmaking, lead actors this side, extras that side, but I suppose these famous people don’t need introduction, neither do they want to mingle with everyday worthies like myself. But Naomie Harris and her co-actor David Oyelowo weren’t having it. They both walked towards me, I supposed to acclimatise, and briefly congratulated me for getting the part of a wedding registrar. I could hardly string a good line in the English accent yet I was selected to do a cool Jamaican pitch. You should have seen the shock horror on my face.
I had to play along with it, Naomie reassured me with a calm whisper. David was standing there well suited for the part where he was about to make his wedding vows to Naomie standing by his side. There was a break session between the shooting then quiet David, as I thought he was, landed with questions after questions which making my head look smaller than a matchstick! “What brought you here to Ireland, do you like it, do you do extras all the time, do they pay you well?” I almost said no, the wage couldn’t buy two wee lampshades but I kept that to myself. The general scope of being an extra is not a basket full of dough. This is the main reason why films come to Northern Ireland: extras earn very little money which is very unfortunate but the experience can be good.
So the two serious actors, Oyelowo and Harris, exuding little small talk and both as smart as hell, have come back to Northern Ireland many times and more films will continue attracting such great black talents to these shores. It is no wonder they have both done even greater things in great films. Naomie is one of the principal names in the Bond movies.
She was in 2012’s Skyfall and 2015’s Spectre. While waiting for the April 2021 release of the next Bond movie No Time to Die, where she plays Eve Moneypenny, she has warned the British media to stop being misogynistic, the term Bond Girl she says should be Bond Woman or nothing.
• What a way to celebrate Western electoral democracy which I have always billed the vehicle of daylight fraud, vis-à-vis rigging. It is now my great honour to introduce to you another Harris, Kamala Harris. The first black and first woman Vice-President elect of a Western country. Kudos to you and Joe Biden, we know who is the de facto President.
Joe has put his Irish roots on the global map again.
Goodbye Mr. Trump.