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Leading NI arts festival to explore race, sexuality and equality

In Forced Out: A Black Gay Detective’s Story of Prejudice and Resilience, Kevin Maxwell offers a powerful and sobering look inside the British police force

Debut writers Bryan Washington and Paul Mendez join forces to talk to the Festival about race and sexuality from different cultural perspectives

As Northern Ireland’s leading contemporary arts festival, Belfast International Arts Festival boasts an imaginative and inspirational programme of events curated for the unique times we live in.

Running until Sunday 1st November, the line-up includes a wide range of events from the world of film, music, theatre, dance, visual art, and a dedicated Talks & Ideas strand featuring local, national and international authors, poets and broadcasters.

This year, the majority of the programme will be hosted online – and for free – with a select number of live and in-person* events, exhibitions and screenings taking place at venues including the QFT (Queen’s Film Theatre), Strand Arts Centre, Naughton Gallery, Ulster Museum and C.S. Lewis Square. Donations are welcomed and booking via the website is advised.

Two events from this years Talks; Ideas programme will explore the themes of race, sexuality and equality from very different perspectives.

Former police detective Kevin Maxwell will join ex-Chief Crown Prosecutor Nazir Afzal to discuss law, race, prejudice and equality. After a decade of intolerance and abuse as a gay black officer, Kevin Maxwell took the force to an employment tribunal. His book Forced Out: A Black Gay Detective’s Story of Prejudice and Resilience details his employer’s machiavellian response, which included leaking his details to the tabloid press. In this event, hosted online at 2pm on Saturday 24 th October, he exposes the full scale of racism, homophobia, entrenched prejudice and moral cherry-picking within the field of law enforcement.

Bryan Washington’s collection of stories Lot became one of the most celebrated books of its year on publication in 2019; named a New York Times critics’ book of the year, one of Barack Obama’s books of the year, and won the Dylan Thomas Prize for new fiction. Its linked stories take us through the life and times of Nicholas, the gay son of a black father and Latino mother in Houston, Texas, with a supporting cast of friends and lovers, all told in a living language that channels great American voices but is uniquely Washington’s own.

Paul Mendez this year won immediate acclaim with his debut novel Rainbow Milk, which was shortlisted for the Gordon Burn Prize and named one of the Observer’s top ten debuts for 2020. In its two narratives it offers a unique perspective in modern literature: the story of a Jesse, a young, black, gay Jehovah’s Witness from Wolverhampton who flees his family to live in London where he works as a prostitute. An inspiring but uncompromising story of resistance to a predetermined life, Rainbow Milk has been celebrated as one of the most remarkable new voices in recent years.

Bryan and Paul will be hosted by John Self as they join forces to discuss their differing personal histories, the backgrounds that shaped them and their debut works. The event will be streamed online at 4pm on Saturday 31st October. To enhance accessibility, the broadcast will also be accompanied by subtitles/closed captions, supported by Halifax Foundation of Northern Ireland.

Festival Director Richard Wakely said: “The mission of Belfast International Arts Festival is to be the preeminent, progressive international arts event within Northern Ireland, and we do this by actively ensuring equal opportunities and access for all sections of our communities to directly experience, participate in and enjoy the Festival.

“This has been a challenging year for the arts sector, with plans scuppered and events on hold due to the ongoing pandemic. The arts can offer a lift to people in these times, despite all external challenges. We felt it was important to offer these opportunities to stream important discussions directly into people’s homes and to make the arts as accessible as possible.”

For more information about Belfast International Arts Festival and to book tickets, visit


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