Last night BBC Two aired two programmes as part of its Black and British season which is running throughout this month, exploring Black Britain past and present through documentaries and accompanying talks and social media projects.
Since I first heard about the plan to have a series of programmes on the BBC focusing on Black Britain, to then seeing the adverts, I have been filled with excitement and anticipation. At last, an area that I am fascinated by and which I can relate to so thoroughly on prime time mainstream TV!
As I tuned into the first instalment of Black Britain: A Forgotten History last night, which began in Roman Britain, I was not disappointed. Presented by David Olusoga, the historian was very much natural on-screen and his passion for his field shone through. At times, such as when looking at the reconstructed sculpture of ‘Beachy Head Lady’ Olusoga got emotional, the significance of the findings dawning on him and reshaping his understanding of his and other black Britons’ heritage.
The programme was easy to follow, moving in chronological order and perfectly balanced academic expert input, dates and facts with the more human, emotional stories linked to the people and events of the past. A particularly memorable part is that where black Georgian Francis Barber’s great, great, great, great grandson, a white man, speaks about discovering that he is the descendant of a black man and how that has dramatically changed his life and outlook.
As each black and gold plaque was unveiled, commemorating the lives of notable black Britons, I felt joy and pride knowing that at last these people were being the recognition they deserved and that this until now broadly overlooked history was being made readily accessible for all; no longer to be forgotten or erased from British history.
This documentary, and the subsequent parts which are to follow in coming weeks, are so long overdue and it was always going to be crucial that they were well-produced to do justice to the subject matter and prove its value to a mainly white audience which may not see the immediate relevance of black British history to their own history and British history overall. The BBC have certainly lived up to the challenge with the first episode and it is with eager anticipation that I and many others now await the following parts of the series.
Immediately after Black Britain: A Forgotten History, Black is the New Black aired, an intimate conversation with some of the UK’s brightest black stars, sharing their personal experiences of being black in Britain.
The famous faces chosen were a diverse group which enriched the programme by offering varied accounts which were all different but linked with common threads.
The simplistic, clean cut style worked really well, a plain backdrop and close-up camera shots meant that the stars and their stories were absolutely the focus and rightly so as the stories were absorbing: funny, sad, infuriating and chilling. For any black British person watching, most importantly, they were wholly relatable.
Pride and happiness were what I felt seeing these talented people sharing accounts that my family, friends and I could so completely relate to and understand. Although many of them were the kind of stories I have heard many times before they were given a new significance and weight simply by being presented to me on mainstream TV and being delivered by stars who I do not usually see so openly embracing or discussing their blackness.
In recent weeks some questionable documentaries put out by BBC Newsbeat, in particular the video which asked ‘Is it true all black people like chicken?’, were met with sizeable criticism from black audiences; many were left disappointed and questioning what the quality of the Black and British season programmes would be in light of this. Thankfully last night’s shows proved that there is going to be quality TV which really grapples with the subjects at hand and finally gives black British people prime time educational programmes filled with people who look like them and which they can relate to and take pride in.
The BBC’s Black and British season continues throughout November with various events, exhibitions and radio shows taking place in conjuction with the TV programmes. On Friday 11th November Akala presents Roots, Reggae, Rebellion on BBC4 at 10pm. For full listings and more information on the season visit: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p0499smp