One of the most familiar and loved faces on British television, BBC London News Art, Culture and Entertainment correspondent, Brenda Emmanus is set to host the upcoming 12th edition of the Screen Nation Award on 7 May 2017.
A seasoned broadcaster and journalist, Brenda has a career that many of us dream of, hanging out with and interviewing the biggest celebrities and people from all walks of life. We recently caught up with her to talk about her career, representation in the entertainment industry and her plans for the future.
When did you know you wanted a career in television?
Working in television was not a conscious decision for me at the beginning of my career. I knew at school that I was stimulated by anything collaborative. I loved being creative and I was a curious being who loved people. The teachers closest to me wanted me to be an actress and I was indeed heading that way until joining a youth drama group of an established theatre and recognising the fact that at the time, opportunities appeared limited and my conviction to the profession was not strong enough to overcome the perceived obstacles.
I then discovered media studies and journalism, and this fuelled my passion for communication and inspired me in the most exciting ways. I did my degree and freelanced as a print journalist. I impressed an editor of a newspaper enough while interviewing him to be offered a job at the end of my degree and worked as a print journalist.
Television came years later. I was of the belief that the BBC only attracted and welcomed white males from Oxford or Cambridge so had not really entertained the idea of working there. When a job was advertised that interested me, I applied discreetly, not telling family or friends. I got the job and have not looked back!
What challenges do you face working on live television?
There is always some jeopardy doing live television, but that is part of the buzz. It’s thrilling and unpredictable. It tests your instincts, your charm, your nerves……everything! I must admit that my preference now is for making longer recorded films where you can be creative and have extended time with your interviewees, and really get to know them. I have started presenting more arts documentaries and that is a whole new ball game which I am thoroughly enjoying right now.
What are your views on the Screen Nation Film awards?
I think the awards are hugely significant in terms of showcasing, supporting, and celebrating the phenomenal amount of diverse talent that we have working here and across the world. I don’t just mean diverse in the obvious sense of race. The extraordinary thing about the Screen Nation Awards is that it never fails to remind us of the great talent on and off screen who have paved the way for us. Who laid the foundations for this generation of celebrated talent; and it also spotlights the young creative people who are making us equally proud today.
I have been blessed with a fantastic job that gives me access to both the A-list international celebrities in arts, culture and entertainment but also the rising stars – but yet I still stand on that stage at the awards and look out and am fuelled with pride and excitement when I see the people who show up and those that are awarded, present or otherwise.
I feel the event has huge potential to be and do something special if supported and our community of artists have remained loyal to the awards, recognising its significance and knowing that it is one place to see and be seen, to network, to share and exchange with fellow creative talent … and to show love!
How important is it for black people to be represented in the entertainment industry?
It is hugely important for us to be represented in the industry but it is also crucial that our broad range of stories and ideas are presented on a mainstream platform. The media can be a little lazy in terms of jumping on the bandwagon and only supporting and giving opportunities the few who manage to overcome the huge challenges and obstacles that we face to break through and achieve success. I love when I see our people make it to stellar status, but we also know that for every awesome Idris Elba and
Naomie Harris, there are many others – who given the opportunity and support, would rise to greatness.
Our art, music and culture has historically had a significant influence on the entertainment history and therefore it is only right that we share a piece of the pie. The problem is that our contribution and work effort is not reflected in the number of us that are in decision making positions. We are often not the curators of our culture so come the day when we in Britain have our own Oprah Winfrey’s, Tyler Perry’s and BET equivalent – it will be a beautiful thing.
That said – I do believe things have improved. We have witnessed progress – Some of our black British actors are global stars; Hollywood is waking up to the fact that we have Box Office worthy stories to tell; the small screen is increasingly reflecting society and Screen Nation is paying tribute to this.
What has been the highlight of your career so far?
I have some wonderful memories over the years, from meeting Maya Angelou early in my career to being flown to the States to interview Clint Eastwood at NASA. I met Oprah Winfrey with Forest Whitaker, interviewed David Hockney and a host of great artists and fashion designers, and learnt lessons about passion, commitment and success from many of them. One of the greatest things as a Black Brit is witnessing how much our home-grown talent has evolved. and being able to play a part in documenting our advancement in this precarious industry.
How do you balance your work and your personal life?
It is never easy but you always must remember the ‘why?’
Why are you doing what you are doing? What’s your motivation? Success demands sacrifices and you must be prepared to make them. Sometimes one takes priority over another in terms of my time but when push comes to shove nothing comes before family and those I love.
Who are your greatest inspiration and why?
My parents have always been my fuel. They have a tremendous work ethic and generous heart. My dad has passed away but his spirit is still strong and I feel him around particularly in my challenging times. I have a tight circle of friends who are my life gurus, and my daughter Marley is an old soul who is wise, sensitive and compassionate. She has taught me so much about myself.
In terms of people in the public eye, I am constantly inspired but must declare that Michelle Obama is my contemporary heroine. I am inspired with awe by everything about her.
What upcoming projects are you working on?
I am currently on the Clore Leadership Programme at the BBC which is an incredible journey. The idea is for you to spend time getting to know yourself and your skills as well as the Corporation and develop those ability and confidence to work towards becoming a future leader. It’s a wonderful opportunity and challenge.
I am also working on Arts documentaries which are a whole new ball game. I have presented programmes on Tate Modern, the British Designers that changed the World and Princess Diana and her fashion. I am currently working on a programme about emerging talent at the Venice Biennale and then another on the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition. There are other plans in the pipeline – but if they come off, you’ll hear about them!
What advice would you give anyone aspiring to be on television?
- Do you!
- Persistence overcomes resistance.
- Don’t get bitter when times get tough – get better.