Isaac Julien

was born in London in 1960. He was a co-founder of the London-based film and video collective Sankofa, established in 1983 to create work which dealt with black subject matter. ‘Passion for Remembrance’, his first piece for Sankofa, is an exploration of identity, featuring characteristics which would become a signature of later work.

While meditating on ideas of race/nation and sexuality/masculinity, Julien’s work does not pigeonhole these issues, rather it seeks to transcend them and shatter prescribed notions. His films resonate with truth because they refuse compartmentalisation, and instead have a more specific, individual focus.

Looking for Langston (1988) uses a variety of influences and styles through free association in order to create a film which mirrors the mixture of identity Julien feels so important. Young Soul Rebels (1991), which could be described as his most commercial work, still refuses to neglect these themes. Set in 1977 it explores the continuation of youth culture in this country (of which the black experience is a vital but often forgotten influence) against the backdrop of the Silver Jubilee celebrations.

In the Wardour Street office of BFI TV for whom I’m directing two documentaries on the history of black people in British television, Black and White in Colour, I’ve been surprised by the massive unrecognised artistic contribution that black people have made to British television. We’ve interviewed 56 people, including the singer Elizabeth Welch, Cy Grant - a remarkable actor best-known for his calypso readings of the news on Tonight- and Pearl Connor, who set up the first agency for black actors in this country in the 1950s. Her story had us all in tears.