Turn on the television and the actors you’re likely to see in major roles will fit a very specific demographic: white, male, and of a fairly well-to-do background, even if the characters they’re playing are not. Instead of accepting this issue as fact, the actor David Mumeni is trying to change it.
Mumeni had what might be called humble beginnings: born and raised in north-west London, he’s the son of a mechanic and a homemaker, and attended what he says was a “pretty rough” local school. Among his classmates, it was unusual to aspire to be an actor, and the explanation for Mumeni’s career path was his flair for drama mixed with luck. He managed to get into various youth theatre programmes during his teenage years, including the Artists Theatre School, where he was introduced to the founder, the actress Amanda Redman. “Amanda offered to privately tutor me over the next year, and she did, for free,” Mumeni says. “I ended up getting into Drama Centre, and she gave me £1,000 towards my studies when I got in.”
Although he now makes a living out of acting, appearing in the T.V. drama Fearless and in films such as Woody Harrelson’s Lost in London, Mumeni has never taken for granted the opportunities he’s been given. That’s why he decided to start Open Door, a charity that gives young people from low socio-economic backgrounds, similar to his, the opportunity to attend England’s top drama schools.
With the help of a few high-profile patrons, including Emilia Clarke, Riz Ahmed, David Morrissey, Harrelson and Redman, Mumeni’s initiative has already started to make a difference: in its first year, students from Open Door were offered 35 places at the likes of Guildhall School of Music and Drama and the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama.
Mumeni says he’s not trying to change the world, just trying to “celebrate the Jimmy McGoverns” — the people who are under-represented in the mainstream media. But encouraging those around him to challenge convention, especially in the entertainment industry, is a surefire way to make a difference.
How did your career progress after leaving Drama Centre?
I signed with an agent, and I wasn’t one of those people who was like, boom, straight away… I think my first job was this drama called Whitechapel, on ITV, about the Kray twins, and I had this scene as a solicitor. I thought, Here we go, and then I didn’t work for a year. But that’s how it is, and it’s taken time to build up. Probably about four or five years go on, and you have a bit more of a kick, and now I have a career, and I live off it.
I did think about quitting, and then I did this (Edinburgh) Fringe play called Mush and Me with a friend who’s a writer, and I helped develop it. I had this feeling in my gut that it was going to do really well, even though it was barely written… I literally went from nearly giving up to going up for more high-profile stuff, and it all started changing. But I did nearly give it up. Which is mad, when I look back and think about it.