|Occupation||Filmmaker, Human Rights Activist|
|Spouse(s)||Kim Romer (born 1959)|
|Awards||BAFTA, Peabody, Amnesty International Media Award, Royal Television Society Award|
She was born in Savyon, Israel, to a European Jewish family with roots in England, Germany and Lithuania. At the age of about nine she went with her family to South Africa where they spent the next ten years. Her parents were religious Jews, but at the age of about thirteen, she rebelled against Judaism, particularly the morning prayer called Shacharit, in which men say, "I thank God that he did not make me a woman".
While her father wanted her to be a lawyer, Udwin supported herself working in theatre and teaching while at university; in her first year she was raped, a fact she told nobody about at the time. She began her career as an actress at the Space Theatre in Cape Town, one of the only two integrated (‘multi-cultural’) theatres in South Africa, playing in the Duchess of Malfi and Stephen Poliakoff’s Hitting Town. Not wishing to work in ‘whites-only’ theatres, her work possibilities in South Africa were limited, so she moved to London at age twenty-one. There she acted in plays at the Royal Court, National Theatre, Royal Shakespeare Company and Cheek By Jowl playing roles like Lady Macbeth, Isobel in The Mayor of Zalamea, Masha in Chekhov's Three Sisters, Nora in A Doll's House, etc. On screen she appeared in the BBC Shakespeare Series production of The Merchant of Venice (1980).
In 1989 she set a legal precedent in the High Court of England against criminal landlord Nicholas van Hoogstraten who harassed her and her fellow tenants in their Rent Act-protected apartment block in West London. Her real life two-and-a-half year battle against Hoogstraten was subsequently fictionalised by Peter Ransley in the 1989 TV drama Sitting Target (19 March 1989) for BBC 2's Screen Two anthology series, directed by Jenny Wilkes. Having initially urged BBC Head of Drama Mark Shivas to make the programme (feeling that this optimistic story should inspire as many people as possible), Udwin worked as a script consultant with Ransley, and also starred as harassed tenant Vicki, alongside Jonathan Hyde as evil landlord Vincent Stott. Udwin also played Hyde's on-screen second wife in the contemporaneous historical legal drama series Shadow of the Noose
After ten years as an actress she wanted more: "It was an exciting career, but working as an actress was not enough for me – I began to want to choose and not just interpret the stories being told." This led her to become a producer. She started her production company, Assassin Films, in 1989. Her productions include the films East is East (1999), Mrs Ratcliffe's Revolution (2007), and West is West (2010), and the documentary India's Daughter (2015).
Udwin also co-produced Who Bombed Birmingham? (1990, starring John Hurt) for Granada TV, about the prosecution and wrongful imprisonment of the ‘Birmingham Six’. The morning after the broadcast, Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher told the House of Commons: "We will not have trial by television in this country."
Her feature film East is East promoted tolerance and the celebration of diversity as between the Asian and British communities. It won the Alexander Korda Award for Best British Film at the BAFTA Awards, and was declared Best Comedy Film at the British Comedy Awards.
Her time spent creating award-winning documentary India's Daughter led Leslee to found UK and US education charity ThinkEqual, of which she is the CEO. Leslee was voted by the NY Times the No 2 Most Impactful Woman of 2015 (second to Hillary Clinton), and has been awarded the prestigious Swedish Anna Lindh Human Rights Prize (previously won by Madeleine Albright) in 2015. She has also been named Safe’s Global Hero of 2015, and a Global Thinker by Foreign Policy.
When not on assignment, Udwin lives in London.
India's Daughter was banned by the Indian government who were alerted to its 'undesirable nature' by a number of Indian feminists including Indira Jaisingh, Urvashi Bhutalia, Vrinder Grover, Kavita Krishnan, Dr Devaki Jain. The BJP government accused Udwin of "a conspiracy to shame India" and wish to "decimate its tourist industry". Udwin listed statistics at the end of the documentary to draw attention to the fact that violence against women and girls is a global pandemic to which no country is immune. She has said she believes the reason for the ban is "India's current obsession with nationalism and image which makes it reluctant to look in the mirror".
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Media related to Leslee Udwin at Wikimedia Commons