Darren Smith wrote a poem and Sachini Imbuldeniya produced a film and together they shared a message seen around the world.
Both praised and criticised for its focus on those from ethnic minority backgrounds, this film struck a chord with the nation and went viral.
Featuring doctors, nurses, delivery drivers, shop keepers, teachers, care workers and many other key workers, the film recites a poem written by Darren Smith to highlight the role Britons with black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds are playing in the pandemic.
Sachini Imbuldeniya heard the poem and produced a film to illustrate the message.
Creative Moment's Lucy Smith spoke to the creators to find out how it came about and the message they want people to take away from the film.
Lucy Smith (LS): Where did the original idea come from?
Darren Smith (DS): Right now the world is undergoing something of a reset. What we once thought were certainties – a thriving economy being the most important role for a country, that austerity was ‘necessary’, and that certain types of jobs are ‘unskilled’ and therefore without value – have now become fragile and uncertain.
We have taken these things for granted, and as they collapse around us we cling more closely to friends, neighbours and loved ones. One of the tiny, tiny glimmers of positivity to come out of the coronavirus pandemic is the sense that we are coming together in solidarity and support. I wrote “You Clap For Me Now” poem as a means of reminding people to keep that feeling of support long after the lockdown is lifted... however long that may be.
Sachini Imbuldeniya (SI): We saw the creative brief for the United Nations (an open brief about creating art that spreads messages of solidarity and kindness) and I knew we had to turn Darren's poem into a film. It has such an important and uplifting message that I thought it would be really powerful – especially if we could hear it in the voices of those we are really applauding right now.
LS: Tell us about Windrush and its connection to the creation of this film.
DS: About a year ago I interviewed Sachini's Mum for an article. She came from Sri Lanka as part of the 'Windrush' generation to work in the NHS. She told me about how the country as a whole was so welcoming and open when she first came here, and at the time it seemed like such a disconnect to Brexit, the Windrush Scandal, to the divisive and hostile country we had become towards immigrants.
SI: My mum left her whole family behind to work here as a nurse for more than 40 years. And the UK was facing huge labour shortages, particularly in nursing. She was welcomed here because she brought something essential to the UK.
DS: So I knew we could change the way we thought of first-, second- and third-generation immigrants. We had applauded them in the past, and we were doing so again. I just wanted to make sure we didn't allow the narrative to go back to demonising people because of the colour of their skin, of the country they came from or the religion they practise.
LS: What challenges did you face making this film during lock-down, and how did you overcome them?
SI: It was a logistical nightmare! I broke down the poem into individual lines and made a call out to friends and family – my brother is a doctor, and I have good friends who work as teachers, dentists – and they asked friends of friends, and so it snowballed. Then I put a call out on Instagram for anyone passionate about our message to get in touch.
DS: That's how Tez Ilyas (the actor and comedian) came to be involved. He responded straight away and, after reading the poem, was really passionate about being included.
SI: Each contributor had to record themself reading a line each of the poem and then send the clips to me. For some I had to talk through the whole process – you know, filming in landscape, not portrait, and how to stress syllables in each line so that their lines would flow into the next. And I worked with Ruben Alvarado, a talented video editor, to stitch the clips together and get the flow right.
LS: How did it feel to see the film go viral and to receive such praise?
DS: It was surreal. We were so excited to see the message being spread but had no idea it would travel so far and so quickly.
SI: I got maybe an hour or two sleep on that first night. It was at about 400,000 views by that point, and even that was beyond anything we had ever imagined.
DS: After five days the film had reached over 285 million people worldwide. Now we have other countries asking to create their own versions, from as far afield as the US, China, UAE... it's been absolutely wonderful and insane.
LS: What is the message you wish people to take away from this creative work?
DS: It’s always important to highlight anti-racism. But I first wrote the poem after the second time we gathered on our doorsteps to clap for our carers. It inspired a wonderful sense of community. So I want the message to be a positive one.
SI: It has more of a humanitarian message than a political one. It seems wrong to politicise a spontaneous act of solidarity. This was about being inclusive.
DS: Yes. I read that some BAME key workers felt uncomfortable with the sudden shift – from being vilified to being praised. That’s when I wrote the poem – to try to contextualise the applause and to help BAME key workers feel rightly included.
LS: How would you sum up what this film means to you, why you did it and what you want others to learn from it?
DS: To all those key workers and carers that do so much to keep us, our loved ones, our friends and neighbours, as safe as possible... this film is a small way of saying thank you. And a promise that we will remember what you have done for us and for your country long after the sound of applause has fallen silent.
SI: We have seen with the coronavirus that there are two ways to respond. Some retreat in fear, stockpiling and putting themselves first above others. And then we have seen people respond with love and kindness. We made this film to show that if you work together, if you support and help each other, then small acts of kindness really can change the world.