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Creator of ‘You Clap For Me Now’ coronavirus video on remembering immigrant key workers

Creative director and producer and Sachini Imbuldeniya talks whitewashed media and filming a viral video about immigration and racism during a pandemic.

16 Apr 2020

‘You Clap For Me Now’ is the film that’s been making everyone cry over the past two days. A serious but saccharine viral vid which puts key workers from immigrant backgrounds in the spotlight and demands your attention. 

Featuring doctors, nurses, delivery drivers, teachers and social workers from all over the UK, alongside comedians, radio presenters and actors – is has a particular focus on those from ethnic minority backgrounds. Together, they read a poem which forces the viewer to acknowledge the UK’s racism and xenophobia.

“So, it’s finally happened. That thing you were afraid of. Something has come from overseas. And taken your jobs. Made it unsafe to walk the streets. Kept you trapped in your home. A dirty disease. Your proud nation gone. But not me. Or me. Or me. No, you clap for me now. You cheer as I toil. Bringing food to your family. Bringing food from your soil. Propping up your hospitals. Not some foreign invader. Delivery driver. Teacher. Lifesaver.”

We spoke to the film’s creative director and producer Sachini Imbuldeniya about putting her mum in the video, media whitewashing and why the video is actually a political statement: 

gal-dem: Your mum is a retired NHS nurse and appears in the video. Did she enjoy being on camera?

Sachini: She’s never done anything quite like it before so she was quite nervous! She did a fantastic job and she’s really happy that the message is being spread. She came over in 1966 from Sri Lanka, at a time when Britain was desperately asking for nurses from around the globe. She was one of the nurses that answered that call and she didn’t come out of choice, she came here because they really wanted her. She started in Wales and then moved to London and was a nurse for 40 years. She dedicated most of her life to caring for people and working for the NHS.

Before you made the video, did you feel the media was “whitewashing” certain voices from the narrative around coronavirus? 

Yes, absolutely. After the first clap for carers we did, Gina Yashere pointed out that the front page of all the newspapers featured white NHS workers. She made the point of saying that, actually, the majority of NHS staff are ethnic minorities [44.4% of NHS medical staff are non-white] so it was interesting that the media did seem to whitewash it.

If there weren’t any negative reactions, there wouldn’t be any reason for us to release a video like this. Katie Hopkins just retweeted it and wrote some really horrible things

What were the practicalities of making a video during the pandemic?

Making a film in a pandemic is a challenge! I allocated people specific lines and filming guidelines and if they were able to film in uniform at their place of work, that would be a massive bonus, but it’s obviously really hard as you’re getting different bits of footage of different quality. Lots of people sending in low-res. It was quite hard to manage but worked out quite well in the end and the fact that it was all taken on people’s iPhones and they were filming themselves makes it even more authentic and genuine. It just needed to feel real, and it is real.

What has the reaction to the video been like so far?

I definitely wasn’t expecting it to go viral, but am so glad that it has, as I feel like it’s such an important message to send out. Not just for the UK, but globally. My inbox has never been so full – I haven’t even had a chance to wee! It’s been mental, but it’s mainly been really supportive, kind, great, positive feedback. There have been a few negative reactions, but I think if there weren’t, there wouldn’t be any reason for us to release a video like this. Katie Hopkins just retweeted it and wrote some really horrible things, as she would do. And that’s the same with her followers. I think the reason we’re sharing this video is to hopefully change the mindsets of people like that. We can at least try.

“After Windrush and Brexit, we wanted to make sure the nation knows how valuable immigrants are”

In a statement from the poem’s author, Darren James Smith, he said that the poem shouldn’t be taken as a political statement. Do you feel the same? 

Totally. It was fundamentally supposed to be a message about kindness and solidarity and it was a recognition to all of the key workers that are genuinely putting their lives at risk every single day. Whether it’s a supermarket employee, whether it’s a refuse collector or whether it’s the NHS. All of the people who are the frontline doing their bit, we wanted to thank them. 

But attached to that is the sentiment that when we recover, we don’t want to return to the stage of xenophobia. We want it to be positive, for people to realise who really supported us during our time of need. We’ve never had a crisis of such a global scale. It’s just affecting everybody, everywhere. The hashtag at the end, which hasn’t trended as much as the title, is “We will remember”. That’s the point: we want to make sure we do. Key workers are the real heroes and need to be celebrated. That is regardless of background, but because there has been so much hostility after the Windrush scandal and the Brexit vote, we wanted to make sure the nation knows how valuable those immigrants are.

So although the words in the poem itself revolve around kindness and solidarity, it does tie into wider arguments around politics?

I mean, I guess it does!

Do you think it’s fair to say we should lean away from the ‘good immigrant’ narrative and also be talking about immigrants who aren’t key workers and why they have just as much of a right to be here as others?

100%. Not everyone in my video is a key worker. I’ve made sure the key workers say the key worker lines. It doesn’t matter if you’re a key worker or not. We’re all humans.