For Mental Health Awareness month (May) I looked around the internet for programmes exploring a subject which is still very taboo within the black community. I watched a couple of web series which were brave enough to deal with the issue and how it affects the often forgotten family and friends surrounded by those suffering with depression, stress and anxiety.
As a topic, mental health is one that has remained neglected for too long. There are many stories to tell from many different perspectives. Each storyline can be a possible revelation for current sufferers and either help to shine a light on what they’re going through or encourage them to seek help.
Directed & produced by Simmy King, Undiagnosed takes a pragmatic view of the deep side of schizophrenia within a traditional and deeply religious Black British family. The story centres around wife & mother Letisha who seems unaware of her own failing mental health. She hears voices in her head, replies to them out loud without flinching and also appears to experience manic delusions, her behaviour deteriorates rapidly each episode. We learn that she may be suffering the effects of a childhood trauma which was never diagnosed or treated. Her parents and husband have adopted a stereotypical black family attitude, deciding to completely ignore her erratic behaviour, or opting to pray it away and leave it to God.
It is left to her younger brother Jermaine to broach the subject, challenging his family at a dinner but his approach is lacking. Jermaine has his own issues, he has turned his back on the family’s religious practices because of a scandal at their church and is frustrated by his parents’ lack of action on all fronts. He is unable to articulate himself without anger so his concerns fall on deaf ears. He’s dismissed as ‘rude’ and even when he speaks to his mother privately she plays it off as Letisha being either misunderstood or just a drama queen.
Even Letisha’s younger son Aaron has noticed his mother talking to herself and tries to tell his grandmother that her behaviour is not normal but still she refuses to listen to the warnings. Aaron clings to his uncle Jermaine who is the only person who will listen to him. We see Aaron rhyme about his life at a recording studio, showing that music is often an outlet for those affected by a troubled home.
The first episodes do well to show exactly how mental health has been treated in the Black community traditionally, the caveat here, is the younger family members’ acute awareness and longing for a solution which highlights a generational shift in attitudes.
Unfortunately Letisha’s story is not explored fully because of a myriad of side plots and characters including; Dee who has an insecure, emotionally abusive husband and is pushed to the end of her patience and her nephew Jordan who is in love with an emotionally abusive teenaged girl. Jordan actually witnesses his aunt being victimised but does nothing. It would‘ve been great to unpack what their backgrounds were and if them both suffering the same abuse is related in anyway.
We are also introduced to Marcus, a gambling addict living a double life. His chance encounter with Letisha is a revelation for him but again, we don’t get to see if he was moved enough to take action in his own life. Hopefully there is a second season in the works to clear up the loose ends.
Watch the full season 1 of Undiagnosed via Simmy King’s YouTube page.
Giants follows millennials Malachi played by writer and director (James Bland), Journee (Vanessa Baden Kelly) and Ade (Sean Samuels) who are each battling inner demons. Online dating, sexuality and the threat of homelessness are only a few scenarios played out on the show, which seeks to highlight topics often regarded as taboo, including male sexual identity and the complex realities of mental health challenges like depression and how it affects the lifestyle you want to lead.
Malachi is an unassuming part time model who has to turn to escorting to make ends meet. His inner ‘Giant’ is highlighted by a series of nightmares but the root cause is never actually revealed. It could be sexuality or depression, both are touched on but ultimately Malachi remains a mystery throughout the series.
The three friends support each other collectively yet seem disconnected from each others’ individual plights. Malachi is the only one in-tune with both his friends’ demons but this appears to be just a ruse to keep him distracted him from his own inner turmoil.
We get the full spectrum of Ade’s issues with his sexuality, how he deals with revealing the truth to his friends and how his family have responded to him back home. Journee is my favourite character because she knows she’s depressed and she tries her best to live her life as normally as possible. We see her vividly go through the ups and downs of dealing with a disease that can be crippling for some. Although she is fully aware and has Malachi for support, Journee still manages to get in her own way.
Giant has the benefit of a clearly high end production team, (Jussie Smollett (Empire) is an executive producer.) and JR Bland does wonders with the script and dialogue. Each character is allowed to breathe in their own way which is captivating for the audience who will identify with any of them or any of the situations that they find themselves afflicted with.
The first season of Giants is currently streaming on Issa Rae’s (Insecure) YouTube Channel via Color CreativeTV.