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Fade to grey: portraying the ethnic minority experience in British film

Robson, Peter (2002) Fade to grey: portraying the ethnic minority experience in British film. International Journal of the Sociology of Law, 30 (3). pp. 235-257. ISSN 0194-6595

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This paper is principally concerned with a matter which does not appear to have received much attention in the literature, namely the representation and adaptation of the ethnic minority experience in film. These issues have, for the reasons explained below, only appeared in a limited way in British popular culture. The imperial and inter-cultural experience of race has appeared in a variety of forms over the years. This paper seeks to place this film coverage in its historical and political context. It does this by looking in some detail at how one particular representation of ethnicity in Errol Braithwaite's autobiographical To Sir with Love, fared in its adaptation for the screen. A much blander portrayal of race and racism in post-War Britain emerges from the film of To Sir With Love than that of the original literary source with the background of racism largely removed from the film. The paper suggests that to obtain a better purchase on the process of adaptation it is crucial to examine the social and political context within which the films in question are made rather than simply concentrate on the aesthetic and stylistic distinctions between the written source and film2 as though these are pure processes to be assessed in some kind of artistic vacuum. This examination is premised on the basis that there is significance in examining the cinematic portrayal of such developments.