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Meet the Londoner working to change the face of journalism

Samantha Asumadu
Photograph: Andy Parsons

Writer and filmmaker Samantha Asumadu went from the London club scene to reporting from East Africa – then returned home to give a platform to BAME journalism…

‘When I was 22 I became a runner at a post-production house in Kensington, where I learned to edit film. I spent my downtime in Brick Lane and Shoreditch, traversing between 93 Feet East, Vibe Bar and Plastic People. I was a party girl and proud. But then, under the influence of an ex, I started reading campaigning journalists like Ryszard Kapuściński and Michela Wrong and going to lectures by African authors. When he moved to Kenya and then Uganda, I joined him.

I started working as a scriptwriter and production manager for a local company and filmed a short piece at a motorsport rally: a popular pastime in Uganda. The piece, about driver Susan “Super Lady” Muwonge, became a documentary for Al Jazeera. From there, I started reporting as a stringer for CNN and a foreign correspondents’ agency. I covered acid attacks, blood minerals and more, but I was particularly interested in telling the stories of women, getting to know them and their lives and families.

For my second feature-length documentary, about the anti-gay bill that put Uganda in the international spotlight once again, I travelled back to London to seek funding. I found a city changed by the financial crisis and, frustratingly, wasn’t able to find money for the film. That led to me founding Media Diversified in 2013.

Back then, there were platforms where you could read some black and Asian writers. But there didn’t seem to be a viable alternative to the mainstream where working-class academics, filmmakers and creatives could tell our own stories without interference from people without our experiences. The overall BAME working population is around 30 percent – but BAME representation in the media industries is less than a third of that. Media Diversified started with a hashtag, #AllWhiteFrontPages. Through countless Twitter storms, pitching sessions and battles, I was able to expand the organisation with the help of a great, committed volunteer team.

We went from hundreds of readers to millions, covering topics ranging from the Indian Ocean slave trade to the black history of rock, and from conscientious feminism to emojis. We put together a directory of media-trained experts from BAME backgrounds. We launched a literary festival, Bare Lit Festival, focusing on writers of colour. We even started a tongue-in-cheek annual awards called The Trashies to critique racist, transphobic and xenophobic press coverage.

I still live and work in London, and the adversarial approach we take is towards the UK mainstream media, which is mainly based here. But I have had editors and other volunteers in Scotland, Sweden, Australia and elsewhere. I see us as global.

We have mentored writers including Micah Yongo, Yomi Adegoke and Shane Thomas, and we’ve run a successful crowdfunding drive to continue commissioning new writers of colour in 2019 and beyond. I’ve also been working on a book about my time as a foreign correspondent. Not bad for a girl from a south London council estate with a bad set of A levels!’

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