Sir Lenny Henry said he was “still surprised” by the lack of black and brown people at Glastonbury, as he called for better representation of ethnic minorities in all facets of British society.
The actor and artist, whose new BBC documentary exploring identity and belonging is out later this month, said festivals were one area of British life where good integration was still lacking.
“It’s interesting to watch Glastonbury and watch the audience and not see any black people there,” Henry said in an interview with journalist Clive Myrie in the Radio Times.
“I’m always surprised by the lack of black and brown faces at festivals. I think, ‘Wow, that’s still a mainstream culture thing.’ »
Henry’s Caribbean Britain, a two-part documentary, features a host of famous names from the arts world, including Sonia Boyce, David Harewood, Trevor Nelson and Benjamin Zephaniah, sharing their stories and experiences of Caribbean culture in the UK.
His comments came as Glastonbury co-host Emily Eavis said Stormzy’s performance in 2019 was “a bit late maybe”.
The grime artist and rapper was the first black British solo headliner in the festival’s history. Speaking in a new BBC Two documentary, celebrating 50 years of the festival at Worthy Farm in Somerset, Eavis said: “He represented the black community at a predominantly white festival and it’s obviously a very important moment. for us, but it’s also a bit late maybe. We probably should have done it earlier.
The documentary’s director and producer, Francis Whately, also said Glastonbury was a good indicator of what was happening in the wider music scene. “So whether it’s with Stormzy or a 50-50 gender split… They’ve always tried to reflect what’s going on in society and in the music industry,” he said.
Henry, who co-founded Comic Relief, was born in Dudley in 1958, a year after his parents arrived in the UK from Jamaica. He recalled how his mother told him as a young boy that he needed to go out and blend in with the local people.
“Because my experience up until then, around the age of nine or ten, was being the victim of occasional racism and fighting all the time in school. Suddenly I had something to compare myself to,” he said.
He also spoke about the cultural power of television and said he would like to see the representation of ethnic minorities, people with disabilities and the LGBTQ+ community in the creative industries continue to improve.
“It’s great to have David Olusoga on TV talking about black British history dating back to Hadrian’s Wall,” he said. “Somewhere the guardians have changed, because now we’re allowed to have you on Mastermind. But how long did it take?
“We always want more representation because we deserve it. We are British citizens, we are settlers. We’ve been in this country, we’ve grown up in this country, we’ve contributed, and a lot of us still think it’s not reciprocated enough. That’s what this documentary is about. »
Henry is a long-time campaigner for media diversity and helps run the Sir Lenny Henry Center for Media Diversity at Birmingham City University. He also has a role in the film adaptation of Kit de Waal’s My Name Is Leon, which his company Douglas Road is producing.
Speaking at the Hay Festival about My Name Is Leon, Henry criticized the way streaming services commission content, saying they hadn’t nurtured new writers, and especially writers of color, enough.