Topher Campbell

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Topher Campbell
Coventry, England
Alma materUniversity of Sussex
Occupation(s)Film director, theatre director, screenwriter, commentator, actor

Topher Campbell is a filmmaker, artist and writer who has created a range of works in broadcasting, film, theatre, television and performance. His works focus on issues of sexuality, masculinity, and the city, particularly in relation to race, human rights and climate change.[1] Campbell is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts, and a past recipient of the Jerwood Directors Award (2005).[2] He holds an honorary doctorate from the University of Sussex for his work in the arts and Black LGBTQ advocacy. He is currently Programme Director of the Collaborative Theatre Making programme at Rose Bruford College in London.[1]

Early life[edit]

Campbell was born in Coventry, England, to a Jamaican mother and a man he did not know. Campbell has referred to his parents' relationship as "a love affair between his mother and a handsome stranger".[3] His mother abandoned Campbell at the age of one and he would not reunite with her until he was 13 years old.[4] He was raised in foster care in Birmingham.[3] As an adolescent, he participated in the "club kid" scene in London, Paris and New York City, and also worked as a model.[5]

He was the first member of his family to go to University, attending the University of Sussex and graduating with a bachelor’s degree in intellectual history.[3] In 2017, he was awarded an Honorary Doctorate by the University of Sussex for his work; it is the first Honorary Doctorate to be given to an openly gay Black man in the UK.[6]

Campbell has described himself as "acutely shy throughout [his] 20’s and into [his] 30's", which caused him to learn to establish himself as "commanding decisive and clear" in "professional settings".[4]


As an actor he has starred in Isaac Julien's Trussed,[7] Campbell X's Stud Life,[8] and Ian Poitier's Oh Happy Day.[9] He is a former artistic director of The Red Room Theatre Company and past chair of the Independent Theatre Council UK.[10][11] In 2000, he co-founded rukus! Federation a Black LGBTQ Charity. In 2017, he was longlisted for the Spread the Word's inaugural Life Writing Prize for his forthcoming memoir Battyman.[12] He is a patron of Switchboard.[citation needed]


His films have appeared in festivals worldwide. At the age of 24, he participated in the Regional Theatre Young Directors Training Scheme, which led to his first film, The Homecoming (1995). Created with artist/photographer Ajamu X through the Black Arts Video Project,[13]:282 The Homecoming is a meditation on Black masculinity and sexuality, themes Campbell has continued to explore throughout his work.[14]

Fetish (2018)[edit]

In 2018, he created FETISH, a piece inspired by the works of Jean-Michel Basquiat.[4] In FETISH, Campbell walks naked through the streets of New York City. He described the process that led to the creation of the film:

FETISH came about because I wanted to express more complex, nuanced and creative notions of my space in the world whilst also honouring the fallen. It’s a film that I willed into being as a place for me to reflect on all the different masculinities and femininities inside of me and to offer a vision of humanity and humanness; amongst all the violence and degradation.[4]

The work reflected the challenges of walking through the city, and generally navigating space as a Black person.[5] He considered the work a dual journey, a protest on the streets of Manhattan, as well as an artistic journey for the audience viewing the film.[5] It was created in collaboration with 2014 Mercury Music Prize winners Young Fathers.[15][16]

rukus! Federation[edit]

In June 2000, he and Ajamu X co-founded rukus! Federation, a Black Queer arts charity dedicated to presenting the best in work by Black Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer (BLGBTQ) artists.[13]:277;[17] The name, which "is a derivative of the word 'raucous'" and also draws on the name "Rukus [ . . . ] a well-known African-American porn star" was chosen in order to "present [the artists'] politics more playfully".[13]:277

In 2005 the rukus! archive project was launched.[13] Originally, they "wanted to call it the Black, Lesbian, and Gay Queer Archive" but the Charity Commission "objected to the word queer, because some people might find it offensive" and the name was changed. Housed at the London Metropolitan Archives, Campbell and Ajamu X founded the archive to

collect, preserve, exhibit, and otherwise make available for the first time to the public historical, cultural, and artistic materials related to the Black lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender communities in the United Kingdom.[13]

It is the UK's first and only archive dedicated to Black LGBTQ artists.[citation needed] In 2008 it received the London Metropolitan Archives' Archive Landmark Award.[18] rukus!archive projects include the play Mangina Monologues.


Cambell has cited Derek Jarman and Isaac Julien as important influences on his work.[13]:282 He has also drawn on academic thinking "around Black mainstream identity politics around hybridity, and notions of difference and diversity, as defined by Black artists", for example, Sonia Boyce.[13]:282 He has also cited the influence of works by sci-fi authors such as Samuel R. Delany, Octavia Butler and Sheree Thomas.[3]



  • Blood Knot (Derby Playhouse) (1990)
  • Woza Albert (1991)
  • Necklaces (Talawa Theatre Company) (1992)
  • Flamingo Theatre London (1992)
  • Moor Masterpieces (West Yorkshire Playhouse) (1996)
  • Wicked Games – (West Yorkshire Playhouse) (1996)
  • Good Copy – (West Yorkshire Playhouse) (1996)
  • Jar the Floor – (West Yorkshire Playhouse) (1997)
  • Pantheaon of the Gods – (Young Vic Theatre) (2001)
  • Dead Funny – (Nottingham Playhouse) (2001)
  • Unstated (2008)
  • Oikos (2010)
  • Protozoa (2010)


As director[edit]

Title Year Notes
The Homecoming: A Short Film About Ajamu 1996 Also served as producer and writer
A Mulatto Song 1997
Don't Call Me Battyman 2004
In this Our Lives The Reunion 2008 Also served as producer, editor, and camera operator
Invisible 2012 For Channel 4

As actor[edit]

Film Year Role Director
Trussed[7] 1996 Isaac Julien
Oh Happy Day 2006 Randy Ian Poitier
Stud Life[8] 2012 Campbell X
Peter de Rome: Grandfather of Gay Porn 2014 On-screen participant

As writer[edit]

  • For Coloured Boys
  • Black and Gay in the UK
  • On Freedom: Powerful Polemics by Supporters of Belarus Free Theatre
  • Brothas 2.0 part or Outlaws to Inlaws (Kings Head Theatre London)

As executive producer[edit]

  • Oikos, a Journey in Wood (2010)



  1. ^ a b "Welcome to Topher Campbell, our new Programme Director of MA/MFA Collaborative Theatre Making". Rose Bruford College. 14 July 2020. Retrieved 28 November 2022.
  2. ^ "Jerwood Directors Award".
  3. ^ a b c d Maglott, Stephen A. (1 January 2018). "Topher Campbell". Ubuntu Biography Project. Retrieved 28 January 2021.
  4. ^ a b c d "PERFORMING MASCULINITIES AND THE BLACK BODY". Sexuality Summer School. 19 May 2020. Retrieved 19 January 2021.
  5. ^ a b c Black, Busy Being. "Busy Being Black - Topher Campbell: Fetish". Google Podcasts. Retrieved 28 January 2021.
  6. ^ Walters, Tom (28 July 2017). "Sussex marks historical LGBT+ progress". The University of Sussex. Retrieved 25 April 2020.
  7. ^ a b "Trussed". Isaac Julien. Retrieved 25 April 2020.
  8. ^ a b "Stud Life (2012)". IMDb. Retrieved 25 April 2020.
  9. ^ "Oh Happy Day (2007)". IMDb. Retrieved 25 April 2020.
  10. ^ Nancy, Groves (9 April 2013). "Arts head: Topher Campbell, chair, Independent Theatre Council". The Guardian.
  11. ^ Hemley, Matthew (13 May 2016). "Scrap artistic directors, urges Red Room boss". The Stage. Retrieved 28 November 2022.
  12. ^ "Life Writing Prize". Spread the Word. Retrieved 25 April 2020.
  13. ^ a b c d e f g X, Ajamu; Campbell, Topher; Stevens, Mary (2009). "Love and Lubrication in the Archives, or rukus!: A Black Queer Archive for the United Kingdom". Archivaria: 271–294. ISSN 1923-6409.
  14. ^ "Watch The Homecoming: A Short Film about Ajamu". BFI Player. Retrieved 25 April 2020.
  15. ^ "The Black Body in Performance: a screening of FETISH". Retrieved 25 April 2020.
  16. ^ Bromwich, Kathryn (25 February 2018). "Young Fathers: 'Everybody has a dark side. We're all complicit…'". The Observer. ISSN 0029-7712. Retrieved 25 April 2020.
  17. ^ "Topher Campbell Profile". The Guardian. London. 6 November 2009. Retrieved 24 March 2012.
  18. ^ "City of London Landmark Award Archive". Archive Landmark Award.
  19. ^ Austin, Jeremy (19 July 2005). "Young directors benefit from Jerwood Award". The Stage.
  20. ^ "Köbberling & Kaltwasser wins AJ Small Projects award". 10 February 2011.
  21. ^ "Urban Intervention Award Berlin 2010 – 'Understanding a Different City'".
  22. ^ Editorial Staff. " Awards Nominees Announced".

External links[edit]