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Akomfrah, John (1957-)

Director, Writer

Main image of Akomfrah, John (1957-)

Born in Accra, Ghana on 4 May 1957, John Akomfrah is one of five children of Ghanaian political activists. He was educated at local schools in West London and at Portsmouth Polytechnic, where he graduated in Sociology in 1982.

Akomfrah is best known for his work with the London-based media workshop Black Audio Film Collective, which he co-founded in 1982 with the objectives of addressing issues of Black British identity and developing media forms appropriate to this subject matter.

Akomfrah's work takes a deliberately questioning approach to documentary film. His debut as a director, the controversial and influential Handsworth Songs (1986), reworks documentary conventions to explore the history of the contemporary British black experience: the film won seven international prizes, including the prestigious John Grierson Award. Testament (1988) is a portrait of an African politician forced into exile after a coup d'etat. The emergence of Black Power in Britain is the inspiration for Who Needs A Heart? (1991) and Seven Songs for Malcolm X (1993). A departure from earlier themes, the BFI production Speak Like a Child (1998) is a psychological drama set in Northumberland.

Besides making theatrical films, Akomfrah has directed many television programmes, including one about Martin Luther King for the Reputations series ('Dr Martin Luther King: Days of Hope', BBC, tx. 30/7/1997) and another on Louis Armstrong for the BBC arts programme Omnibus ('The Wonderful World of Louis Armstrong', BBC, tx. 10/5/1999). A critic as well as a film-maker, Akomfrah has written widely about African cinema. He has been a member of the Arts Council Film Committee, and is currently a BFI Governor.

Akomfrah, John, 'Wishful Filming', Black Film Bulletin, v. 1, n. 2, Summer 1993, p. 14
Auguiste, Reece, 'Handsworth Songs: Some Background Notes', Framework, no. 35, 1988, pp. 4-8
Marks, Laura U., 'Ghosts of Stories: Black Audio Film Collective's Who Needs A Heart?, Cineaction, no. 36, 1995, pp. 53-62
Petley, Julian, 'Possessed by Memory', Monthly Film Bulletin, Sept. 1989, pp. 260-261

Annette Kuhn, Reference Guide to British and Irish Film Directors

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Selected credits

Thumbnail image of Handsworth Songs (1986)Handsworth Songs (1986)

Experimental documentary exploring race and social unrest in '80s Britain

Thumbnail image of Seven Songs for Malcolm X (1993)Seven Songs for Malcolm X (1993)

The life and legacy of the assassinated African-American political leader

Thumbnail image of Speak Like A Child (1998)Speak Like A Child (1998)

The psychological journey of three friends from a children's home

Thumbnail image of Who Needs A Heart (1991)Who Needs A Heart (1991)

Challenging dramatised documentary about Britain's Black Power movement

Thumbnail image of Black and White in Colour (1992)Black and White in Colour (1992)

Analysis of Black representation on and in British television

Thumbnail image of Touch of the Tar Brush, A (1991)Touch of the Tar Brush, A (1991)

Exploring Englishness through the eyes of mixed-race people in Liverpool

Thumbnail image of Twilight City (1989)Twilight City (1989)

Experimental documentary about a fractured mother-daughter relationship

Related collections

Thumbnail image of Black British FilmBlack British Film

Pride, pressure and rage

Thumbnail image of Black PioneersBlack Pioneers

The early history of Black filmmaking in the UK

Related people and organisations

Thumbnail image of Black Audio Film Collective (1982-98)Black Audio Film Collective (1982-98)

Film Collective