Education · Performance & Arts · Whiteness & racism

Top Boy and Black Stories

Thanks so much for writing this.

I saw an episode of Top Boy as part of Media Diversity’s #AllWhiteTV survey and struggled to explain what bothered me about it. It wasn’t simplistic, wildly unrealistic or gratuitously negative, and the race-consciousness of the writing was evident. I even wondered if they had deliberately made some of the most unsympathetic characters – a sadistic drug lord, a junkie mother – white. Maybe an excess of optimism on my part!

The problem is that the only show with more than a critic-appeasing sprinkle of black actors is this gritty show about drugs crime & violence, which reinforces a stereotype to people who so much as glance at the TV schedule.

I mentioned that this show was race-conscious. If only that applied to the other shows I had to watch. ITV’s Great Night Out, for example, was a completely mindless show full of white people doing unrealistic pointless things. (I’d say the same about Eastenders, but I don’t want a fight.) It would be impossible to put black actors in these roles without waking up the audience. Right now most of British TV is letting white people sleep.

Big School was an exception. I’m not saying it was exemplary, but it at least drew attention to white ignorance and didn’t absolve it. That’s a start.

Media Diversified

By Damilola Odelola

Top Boy returned for its second season in September, after a year-long hiatus, it resumed a comfortable spot. The story follows a group of young (and sometimes older) people on a fictional Hackney estate, Summerhouse, involved with drug dealing and gang violence. During it’s first season, it was often likened to America’s The Wireand understandably so. The characters are multi-dimensional and complex; they aren’t just drug dealers or gang bangers, they are orphans, parents, abuse victims, business owners, etc. The writers of the show seem careful to paint these characters as human as possible, making it hard for us, the viewers, to completely demonise them because they are relatable. We see aspects of us in them.

Top Boy

When this second season premièred, many were excited and looked with anticipation for the first episode, but I did see a few who weren’t so happy with the return of…

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