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Matura, Mustapha (1939-)


Main image of Matura, Mustapha (1939-)

The New Statesman described Mustapha Matura as "the most perceptive and humane of Black dramatists writing in Britain." The son of a Brahmin priest who had emigrated from India, Matura dreamt of an artistic life beyond the shores of Trinidad, where he was born in 1939.

In 1962, it took him fourteen days to arrive in England by sea. A year later, after working as a hospital porter, Matura, with fellow Trinidadian Horace Ové, headed for Rome, where, as an assistant stage manager on productions like, Langston Hughes' Shakespeare in Harlem, he realised there were plays to be written about the West Indian experience in London from an anti-colonial perspective.

His groundbreaking first plays indicated a rooted knowledge about the lived experiences of West Indians in Britain in the 1960s and an obvious preoccupation with London, and 1974's Play Mas, an examination of the effects of independence seen through the lives of an Indian tailor and his mother, won him the Evening Standard's 'Most Promising Playwright' Award. In his own plays, Independence, Rum and Coca Cola and The Coup, and his Trinidad-set adaptations Playboy of the West Indies (from Synge) and Trinidad Sisters (from Checkhov), Matura focused on "exploring and examining the different layers and levels of Trinidadian society", coupling this with a nuanced British perspective.

In 1978, he co-founded the Black Theatre Co-operative with Charlie Hanson, which that year produced his play about second-generation alienation, Welcome Home Jacko, on the strength of which television producer Humphrey Barclay encouraged the Cooperative to produce a situation comedy workshop.

This foundation was to lead to some of the early black programmes on Channel 4 in the early to mid 1980s. Correspondingly, Matura's work began to turn to television. No Problem! (1983-5), written by Matura with Farrukh Dhondy, was the first 'ethnic sitcom' to emerge from Channel 4's Multicultural Programming Department. Although it faced sharp criticism for depending on black stereotypes, it marked a milestone in terms of access and production and offered a unique sense of 'black-Britishness'. Matura has since admitted that the strong, divided responses from audiences made him aware of the power of television.

Aside from other small writing jobs, Matura's other major contribution to television was Black Silk (BBC, 1985), which he devised in collaboration with Rudy Narayan. Matura was also one of the writers along with others such as Narayan, Edgar White and Tunde Ikoli. Unlike a lot television legal dramas, Black Silk paid less emphasis on reinstating law and order than on exposing it as routinely unjust. In this way, it can be considered as an early public acknowledgement of 'institutional racism'.

Matura continues to write and revise his work, mainly for theatre.

Further Reading
'Ter Speak in yer mudder tongue': An interview with playwright Mustapha Matura' in Kwesi Owusu (ed.) (2000) Black British Culture & Society, Routledge

Sarita Malik

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Selected credits

Thumbnail image of Black Silk (1985)Black Silk (1985)

Drama about a black lawyer championing minority communities

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