5 must-watch series showcasing Black British experiences

For our latest D&I blog I’ll be sharing 5 TV series showcasing individual Black British experiences. They’re not only a great watch but illuminate important social issues and are a great way to begin to break down some of the stereotypes.

We all hold some sort of bias, but the truth is that many of these biases are born from forms of media that have exacerbated a tired stereotype of Black criminality or unfavourably focus on heartache, sadness and violence. Seldom do we see positive representation of Black people on British TV. We need to see a balance, with Black people being, first and foremost, just people who also happen to be Black.

diversity tv series

I’ve had a long couple of weeks of being a coach potato for a cause, especially because the representation of Black Britishness on British TV hasn’t always been true to life and isn’t always an easy watch. For this reason, I wanted to give a selection of TV series that span many genres, from docu-series to comedy to drama, that encompass Black lives in a meaningful way by fronting progressive forms of representation and are incredible TV programmes in general.

1. Small Axe (BBC iPlayer)

small axe screenshot tv

Source: bbc.co.uk

Oscar-winning director, Steve McQueen, very beautifully illuminates incredible stories of real Black British experiences from 1980’s, in Golden Globe nominated Small Axe. Each individual episode/film can be considered a moving masterpiece with a nostalgic soundtrack to fit.

Yes, the show does touch on socio-political issues that aren’t necessarily a light watch, but it’s not inundated with underlying problems of white saviourism, or unnecessary depictions of physical harm towards Black people. The series definitely sheds light on a part of British history that never really gets enough attention in our history lessons.

The ‘Red, White & Blue’ episode follows the true story of one of the first Black police officers, Leeroy Logan, played by John Boyega. It explores his career change into the force and workplace racism from other police officers – his fellow colleagues.

Watch the series here.

This series was also followed up with a podcast, interviewing Leeroy Logan himself, historian Kehinde Andrews and others. Listen here.

There’s also a playlist on Spotify of some top-quality dub, reggae and ska. Listen here.

2. Black and British: A Forgotten History (BBC iPlayer)

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Source: bbc.co.uk

Speaking of British History – my next suggestion is Black and British: A Forgotten History, a 4-part documentary series that explores exactly what it says on the tin, the forgotten history of Black British people. If you are interested in British history in general, this is an eye-opening watch.

David Olusoga, historian and author, courageously uncovers how deep the roots of Black British history are – spoiler alert – it’s not just slavery. Olusoga builds a tree of knowledge that branches from Black sailors to Black Romans. Although this docu-series does touch on slavery, it also examines Black people’s entanglements with Britain far beyond that, giving a wider understanding of how much of British history has been ignored and how Black people have been erased.

Olusoga also has a book under the same name which goes into more detail; to check it out, click here.

Watch the series here.

3. Chewing Gum (Channel 4 & Netflix)

chewing gum tv series

Source: comedy.co.uk

I don’t think it’s possible to write a blog about great British television without at least mentioning Michaela Coel. Last year, she released her captivating series, I May Destroy You, that she wrote based on the experiences she had during the filming of BAFTA-awarded comedy series, Chewing Gum.

Coel’s preceding comedy demonstrates her strength and diversity as a writer and actor. Chewing Gum follows Tracey, a Christian girl who’s pretty clueless about relationships, living on an estate in East London and getting into an eclectic mix of odd and very crude antics.

Coel revels in showing an alternative depiction of council estates and working-class communities that are vibrant, caring and mischievous without glorification. She depicts an image of council-estate life that is not characterised by gangs, as we are so used to seeing on TV.

This comedy has the audacious shamelessness of The Inbetweeners paired with subtle plot references to Zadie Smith’s White Teeth. I hope it sparks as much joy and/or cringing for you, as it did for me.

Watch this series here.

4. Hair Power: Me and My Afro (Channel 4)

afro hair tv series

Source: Dove.co.uk

What can I say about Emma Dabiri without being at risk of fan-girling? She is effortlessly cool and probably the most thorough researcher of afro-hair, African traditional hair practice, afro-hair discrimination and featurism. Emma is now a three times-published author, a teaching fellow at SOAS and the presenter of Channel 4 documentary, Hair Power: Me and My Afro.

The documentary looks at the socio-political issues surrounding a contemporary natural hair movement through the experiences of Black people. This documentary is uplifting, inspiring and thought-provoking with a clear anti-racist rhetoric, touching on discrimination and what it means to look professional.

If you want to delve a little bit deeper, check out Dabiri’s books here.

Watch the series here.

5. Desmond’s (Channel 4 and Netflix)

desmond tv series

Source: Voice-online.co.uk

Desmond’s is a very light-hearted family comedy following a Jamaican family, and their dear friends, who own a barbershop in Peckham in the 80/90s. This funny, quick-witted and quintessential British sitcom, with a majority Black cast and team of writers, is beautifully relatable to anyone and everyone in some way or another.

Director, Trix Worrell, said in an interview with BFI that ‘I never wrote Desmond’s for Black people, because we know who we are. I wrote it for White people, so you can get to know who we are and, ultimately, see that there is no difference.’

Watching it in lockdown, whilst being isolated from family and friends is truly like a warm hug! It’s nostalgic but also has a lot of comical relevance even now. Since its release onto Netflix in October 2020, it’s made quite the revival and it’s no wonder. The playful and witty inter-family relationships, coupled with the real issues of gentrification and over policing of Black people that rippled through Peckham communities, then and now, are what give the show life and relatability to so many.

Watch the series here.

Although, we can’t always depend on TV and film to represent groups of people positively, there is something to gain from the above series that are produced with an agenda to dismantle the stereotypes that have been fortified. Black people have experienced unwanted and imposed villainous characters which these series have inadvertently battled. Each one of these series has a message that can be interpreted as political, whether this was intended or not. These series are truly staples of what anti-racism looks like through great British television.

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