I’ve been writing weekly recaps about my favourite TV programme Being Mary Jane this year. One of the things I love about the show is it depicts the life of a black woman over 35 and shows women of the same age, going through a variety of issues we all face. Angst and dysfunction is not reserved for those in their teens and twenties. Prior to this my favourite shows were Girlfriends and Soul Food for the same reasons. I saw myself in the characters and could relate to the black family dynamic. Although some of the Americanisms were out of my realm, I could still attach myself to their world because I’ve been watching US shows about black families my whole life.
But now, I would really love to see myself, or people like me, on the screen depicting black life from this side of the Atlantic. A drama about a mother from London, of Caribbean parentage, with friends who don’t have kids, or are married, divorced or becoming Grandparents. A group of women from the UK struggling with Identity, are we Black British or African Caribbean? Is relocating back to our parents’ homeland realistic? Women who are entering middle age going into Entrepreneurship, dealing with teenage children, empty nest syndrome, dating etc. I’m sure some of these issues are dealt with on EastEnders, but a soap opera is not the only place or the right place for a credible long running show on a par with Being Mary Jane or Girlfriends. Why is there no room on British television for our complexed, nuanced stories?
I have to go all the way back to 2001 to recall the last time I was excited by a new series on UK television. BBC One drama Babyfather adapted from the novel by Patrick Augustus had an excellent cast and an exciting storyline. We only got 4 episodes and, to my knowledge, it hasn’t been repeated. Andrea Levy’s Small Island novel was made, again by BBC One in 2009 but that didn’t live up to expectations, and equally disappointing was Zadie Smith’s, NW novel reduced to a poorly executed 90 minute one off last year. There have been many excellent books written since then, if that’s the only place the BBC can get their black stories from why not do one series a year at least?
We have so many US imports, even The Real Housewives of Atlanta has made it to ITV2. Why spend money importing US shows when you can employ UK actors and tell UK stories? Even when we do have a British drama or mini series with a black cast it is always set on a council estate, based around music, crime driven, or written through the white gaze with almost every black character’s love interest being white – something especially prolific in current British children’s TV shows. Or if we look at BBC’s Luther for example, which although had Idris Elba as the lead, that’s as far as we got with any references to black culture – no black friends, no black love interests, and every other black character featured in the series also existed in isolation and didn’t relate to Luther in any way. Add to that two whole seasons of Channel 4’s London; council estate based series revolving around drug dealing, violence and gang crime, Top Boy…
Without ignoring Chewing Gum. Yes, Michaela Coel’s comedy series is a good look at life from a younger perspective, but what happens after Tracey grows up and has a family? Will we get to see life from her perspective, off the council estate and navigating life as a grown woman dealing with grown women problems?
The current trend in the UK is taking popular black web series’ and putting them onto BBC Three! Think #HoodDocumentary, Sunny D and the latest Just a Couple. Or, giving them one off pilots never to be revisited.
This week Samuel L Jackson complained about British actor Daniel Kaluuya starring in a US film about interracial dating, and there have been a few other African American actors who have moaned about the British stealing their jobs. Maybe he should have a word with UK producers and TV networks about actually employing people from this side of the ocean and giving our actors roles that require a British accent for a change.
Take a look at the best TV shows of 2016 as listed by The Telegraph; it was extremely white read the list here.
I hope it gets better sometime soon, but I won’t hold my breath!