Omar Okai

Founder of the Black British Theatre Awards (BBTA) he/him

I don’t like the word BAME. It’s like there’s white on one side and the rest in a bucket. I try to reach out to young black performers so we started the Black British Theatre Awards (BBTA) with Solange Urdang.

It’s not about winning awards but starting a movement in theatre. Inclusive categories (LGBTQ, casting, disability, best use of technology awards and more)

We’re often told that ‘it’s not racism, they only pick the best one for the job’ but how can anyone say that if as black people we can’t even get our foot in the door to be seen? This is changing now. People don’t want to see an all-white cast for no reason. That’s lazy casting. The creative teams aren’t doing their job. If you can cast the lion king, Hamilton, Dream Girls, Kinky Boots over and over again, it’s because there are black actors ready to work.

Over the last few decades, there are now black choreographers, playwrights, actors and other movers and shakers who are out and fully black and fabulous and not scared. Now we have people writing our own stories about being black and gay. There isn’t enough writing about the black trans experience though.

I sometimes feel like I have become sort of an educator. It is affecting my psyche and I don’t want to be exploited as a black person either. It’s not my job to educate people. Some people, though, really try to understand what’s going on. I’ve just taken part in Collective Creative Initiative run online by a casting director. They’re trying to show visibility.

I wasn’t there just as the token black director.

I’m about to direct a show in Cornwall called The Last Five Years about two jewish people. I will cast one man and a woman. And one of the actors is black. It’s a bit of a taboo really but there are Black Jews. It’s time to think outside the box where shows are designed and created by an all white team. My god children are Jewish so I can direct that show. If I have questions I’ll ask to the Jewish people around me.