If the Americans can have movies and TV about black family life and romance, why can’t we?
It was earlier this year that I first watched Claudine, the 1974 African American dramedy classic starring Diahann Carroll as a single mother making minimum wage working as a maid while raising six children in an impoverished part of New York. The film focuses on how Claudine challenges love interest Rupert ‘Roop’ (James Earl Jones), who she meets by chance. Roop must fit around Claudine’s schedule if he wants to make it work with her, because, in Claudine’s world, her kids, her happiness and their collective survival takes precedence over any budding romance.
Directed by John Berry, the film dramatises the very real challenges for single mothers on welfare support and the catch offered by a system that reduces entitlements for parents when there is proof of a significant other. The fathers of Claudine’s children have long gone, but how is she to trust Roop won’t do the same, or that embarking on a relationship with him won’t end up crippling her financially because the state diminishes its support? It’s either fall in love or protect herself and her children by sticking to the ride-or-die independent matriarch stance she knows so well.
Rooted in the situations of ordinary black people in New York in the 1970s, while offering a realistic and relatable picture of black romance, Claudine is a revelation, but it got me lamenting once again how rare it is to see such relationships on screen – most especially in a British context.
What British shows or films are there that celebrate black love and its evolution? We had The Fosters (1976-77), No Problem! (1983-85), Desmond’s (1989-94), Chef! (1993-96), Brothers and Sisters (1998) and Babyfather (2001-02), but look at those date spans: these are all now long in the past. For African Caribbeans living in the UK, if we want to see versions of ourselves in love on screen, we have no choice but to look to our African American cousins or Nollywood.
British TV has absolutely run from showing a regular black family, or a couple in love, living life and enjoying their existence. While representations of interracial love have become increasingly prevalent on screen, there’s almost nowhere to look to see black romances on our screens.
‘Black British love’, the brand, needs a new PR strategy because in real life the black British identity has been killing it. Grime has taken on America. Steve McQueen won the Oscar for best picture for 12 Years a Slave (he was unlucky not to get best director too), and surely Amma Asante won’t be too far behind. Naomi Campbell is STILL dominating fashion, while, ever since Idris Elba gave good as Stringer Bell in The Wire, our British African-Caribbean actors have found plenty of opportunities to flourish across the pond. It’s taken a few decades but #BlackBritishLives are starting to really get noticed…
Read full article by Akua Gyamfi via BFI here