Ngozi Onwurah: the forgotten pioneer of black British film

Ngozi Onwurah: the forgotten pioneer of black British film



The Body Beautiful‘ by Ngozi Onwurah. Image via BFI

Ngozi Onwurah, despite being the director of the first independent black British feature film to be released, is not a household name. For a long time, her film Welcome II The Terrordome (1995), was the only film by a black woman to have a UK release. Like many black British women pioneers, her contributions to her craft have been pushed to the peripheries of British film history, yet revisiting her films reveals them to be prescient explorations of race that are just as relevant today.

Onwurah was born to a white mother and a black father in 1960s Nigeria. She was raised in England by her mother, alongside her two other siblings (one of whom, Simon Onwurah, produced Welcome II The Terrordome). Her first work, Coffee Coloured Children (1988), uses Onwurah’s own personal narrative to look at the experiences of being a black mixed-race child in England. It begins gleefully with folk of all races gathered together, dancing, laughing, rejoicing, to the ever optimistic soundtrack of Blue Mink’s song ‘Melting Pot’. The tone of the film darkens almost instantly, its extended background monologue beginning with the question “our childhood memories are blurred, murky, why did the big boys throw dog shit on our front door?”. This is coupled with the visual of this particular act being reproduced for the viewer…

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