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Don’t be silent on racism, says Bradford film graduate

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Usmaan Arshad

Celebrating creative industries in support of UUK’s national campaign

University of Bradford TV production graduate Usmaan Arshad made a series of short films about racism in modern Britain which have been viewed millions of times online and are hosted on the BBC’s website.

His work is being highlighted in support of the Universities UK (UUK) Creative Sparks #MadeAtUni campaign, which celebrates the immense contribution of UK universities to the creative sector.

Usmaan, 29, who grew up in Girlington, Bradford, studied TV production from 2012-15 and completed a master’s in digital filmmaking from 2015-16, also at the University of Bradford. He went on to work for local TV station Made In Leeds and then as a production editor at the BBC. He has since worked for Apple TV and Netflix, and has plans for more films and documentaries in the near future.

Challenging racism

His work on racism is both heartfelt and moving. In his first video, he explains: “It’s only when we talk about our experiences, that people can see what we see.”

Here, he shares his motivations for creating the films, and says why he believes the issues raised are still just as relevant today.

“I had a tough time growing up, I was bullied at school and experienced racism from a young age. Those experiences have never left me. At school, I failed all my GCSEs, I had eight per cent attendance between Years 10 to 11, basically because of bullying and racism. I later retook my exams in college, where I had 100 per cent attendance.

“University was a positive experience for me but it was my Master’s that really transformed me. I was working three jobs at the time. It was a big time of change in my life.”

Over 5m views

During his time at the BBC, he was editing journalist packages about the murder of George Ffloyd, when a chance meeting with an editor led to him creating his first very personal video on racism.

“The video was about my own experience, it had about 500,000 views on facebook within a couple of days. I remember one of the editors asking me if I had looked at the comments - she said not to, because they were mostly racist. Two days later, most of the comments were positive and people were rebutting the racism.

“To me that was a natural change, because I could see people were debating and changing their opinions. In the weeks that followed, the videos were posted by the BBC around the world and I had a lot of positive feedback from colleagues and senior managers.”

Another of his videos tells the story of professional rugby player Vinny - his encounters with ‘casual racism’ all too reminiscent of the controversy that recently enveloped Yorkshire County Cricket Club.

Sheffield-born poet Tashinga talks about her experiences growing up as a young black woman, about challenging perceptions and stereotypes and overcoming deeply embedded beliefs about race and culture.

Perhaps his most poignant video is the story of Gloria, a midwife for 48 years, who recalled her own experiences of being subject to racism. Her video notched up over 5m views in the first week and has been played by the BBC in countries around the globe.

Usmaan says: “When you create films like that, you cannot tell people how to think. To be honest, it was difficult finding people willing to speak directly to camera about their experiences regarding racism. I am proud of the films. What the audience gets is a firsthand account, there is no bias in terms of us telling the story - it’s just them speaking, then people can make up their own minds.”

He adds: “Obviously, during the pandemic, the world has stopped but racism is still abundant, so it is as important as it ever was to have those conversations and shine a light into those dark places.”

Usmaan has worked as an editor on the Apple TV hit Invasion, on All Creatures Great and Small, and for Netflix on numerous projects, including The Undeclared War. His future plans include more films and documentaries on the effect of drugs in the South Asian community and a creative project about throw-away culture.

But his work on racism, its effects, and how it is still prevalent today, is already a monumental achievement. As he says at the end of his first video: “Don’t be silent.”

Nurturing talent

Vice Chancellor Professor Shirley Congdon said: “We fully support the UUK campaign and we are proud to celebrate the achievements of our students and graduates and their contribution to the creative industries across the UK.

“Our University motto is ‘give invention light’ and that is precisely what we aim to do in all our courses, nurturing talent and innovation. The University of Bradford is proud to have been recognised nationally as a university that makes a difference to people’s lives, increasing our graduate’s social mobility through knowledge and skills. This in turn has a positive effect on society as a whole, particularly as we look to recover from the pandemic.” 

New research conducted by Savanta ComRes for UUK shows that UK parents are strongly in favour of university creative courses, with more than two thirds (69 per cent) saying that creative courses are vital for powering the UK’s creative industries and nearly two thirds (65 per cent) saying that they benefit the UK economy. 

But there are fears that this contribution could now be under threat, with two thirds (67 per cent) of UK parents acknowledging that creative industries have suffered greatly as a result of the pandemic. 

In response, Universities UK has launched the Creative Sparks #MadeAtUni campaign to showcase the creativity found at UK universities like Bradford and to encourage the government to promote and support the importance of creativity and creative courses.

Alistair Jarvis CBE, Chief Executive, Universities UK said: “Universities are places where creative ideas flourish, where innovation happens, and where businesses employing thousands of people are started. They’re where the nation’s creative sparks are ignited.” 

You can find out more about the UK’s Creative Sparks here. You can also follow the campaign on Twitter and Facebook.  

Click here to read the full list of Creative Sparks, or here to watch the campaign video, voiced by Greg James. You can even play the online game to see which “Creative Spark” you are here.  

Watch Usmaan’s videos here:-

Usmaan’s story

https://youtu.be/bHzknVwRkps

Gloria’s story

https://youtu.be/crNz2oVkhk4

Vinny’s story

https://youtu.be/y7FsqOhoGeg

Tashinga's Story

https://youtu.be/pas42i-EZUU

FACTFILE

The UK’s creative industries were worth more than £115billion to the UK economy pre-Covid, and will play an important role in the economic recovery as the nation rebuilds post-pandemic.

  • 187,000 students enrolled in creative courses in the UK in 2019-20, but the number of applications is in decline.
  • This is despite the fact that the creative industries was the UK’s fastest growing sector pre-Covid, and as the sector looks to regain its momentum, employers are needing creative graduates.
  • Jobs that require creative skills are likely to be a larger proportion of the workforce by 2030 – and are growing faster than STEM-related roles.

Competition

Universities UK is running a competition for social users to share an image or video on Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook, of a piece of art (music, a performance poem/rap, sculpture, drawing, painting etc) which depicts creativity made at uni. Prize winners will receive money towards equipment such as a camera, software, arts and crafts materials or payment towards studying a creative course of their choice. 

Terms and conditions are available here.

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