Sir Lenny Henry has spoken about the racial abuse his mother faced when she arrived in the UK, at the launch of a BBC show about the Windrush generation.
“People followed her down the street and asked her where her tail was,” the actor revealed at a screening of Soon Gone: A Windrush Chronicle this week.
“This is the stuff our grandparents and parents experienced,” he continued.
Yet Henry said people like his Jamaican parents also received kindness and that that should be recognised as well.
“It’s also important to talk about the good things – the people who were nice, who were kind, that facilitated relationships and working experiences,” he told an audience in east London on Tuesday.
“We’ve tried to do that with this story by telling the story of one particular family.”
Soon Gone, which begins on BBC Four on 17 February, comprises a series of eight 15-minute monologues set in the front room of an Afro-Caribbean home.
According to the BBC, the series “explores the highs and lows of one family from the 1940s to the present day, through their hopes and desires, challenges and shattered dreams.”
Sir Lenny performs one of the monologues in his role as Cyrus, a man who agrees to marry a young nurse and put his name on the child’s birth certificate.
He appears as an older version of the character in a monologue set in 2011, during the riots sparked by the death of Mark Duggan.
“When I was growing up I went to a school with no other black people and walked past signs that said ‘Keep Britain White’,” Henry told Digital Spy.
“When my older and younger brother came to live in this country, they were attacked on numerous occasions and had to defend themselves.
“These were things that happened to us that we should discuss openly,” he continued. “You can’t know your future if you don’t know your past.
“If this can get a kid who’s watching Luther on his phone upstairs in his bedroom to come downstairs and watch with his parents, and ask ‘What was it like for you mum, or dad?’ we’ll have done a job.”
Sir Lenny was also in Birmingham this week at an event celebrating his chancellorship of Birmingham City University.
Speaking to broadcaster June Sarpong, the 60-year-old said the lack of diversity on television was proving a turn-off for young viewers.
“Young people need to see themselves up there on the screen, because otherwise they’re not going to watch anymore,” he said.
Soon Gone is produced by BBC Four in collaboration with Sir Lenny’s Douglas Road Productions and the Young Vic theatre in London.
Winifred Henry died in 1998.
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