CONTENT NOTE: This post will contain discussion of domestic violence, and also contains spoilers for ‘Murdered By My Boyfriend’ and ‘The Secrets’
Earlier this week, I was in conversation with a work colleague. She’s a black woman, and we both reminisced about the 1990’s sketch show, The Real McCoy, while simultaneously interrupting our reverie by lamenting the lack of anything of its ilk on current British television.
However, I didn’t want to end 2014 with a jeremiad. Instead, I’m going to focus on a couple of British bright spots in the television year, which had black people at the centre.
The first thing that caught my eye about this drama was its poster. It featured four women (three of them black), something anomalous enough to be noteworthy. However, the story’s significance was equally as profound as the initial optics.
I don’t really need to tell you what the show is about. The title already does that. Based on a horrific true story, it depicts Ashley (played by Georgina Campbell) and the relationship she enters with Reece (played by Royce Pierreson). The initial idyllic romance between them turns violent as Reece perpetrates habitual incidents of domestic abuse towards Ashley, both physical and emotional.
It is an exceptionally difficult watch, as it should be. It skilfully manages to show how an abuser can appear a perfectly loving individual, before gradually metastasising into a monster once they have the abused person under the grip of an ever-present threat of violence.
Regina Moriarty’s script doesn’t waste screen-time in trying to explain the reasons for the violence committed by Reece. There’s no delving into his upbringing, trying to show him as a troubled soul. The focus remains on Ashley. This is her story, It centres her in a way that the real-life Ashley probably never had in her own life.
The engine that powers the tale are the two performances. Campbell (who also shone in One Night back in 2012) is magnificent as Ashley, oscillating between love, terror, and exhaustion. She has to internalise so much, but never fails to emotionally impact the audience. It also shouldn’t be overlooked that in a space where women of colour are constantly elided, giving a black woman a role that will naturally elicit empathy has strong resonance.
Pierreson also deserves credit for what must have been a difficult role to portray. His character is nothing short of inimical, but he never becomes a pantomime villain. His performance actualises a fully credible evil. It’s unlikely to happen, but he and Campbell should receive plenty of award recognition for their work.
Great television often transcends entertainment, and functions as a public service. One of my first thoughts after viewing Murdered By My Boyfriend was that men in particular needed to watch this. Including those who see themselves as “one of the good ones”, as we live under a patriarchal structure where misogynistic thoughts and deeds can come to us as naturally as breathing.
However, Campbell sent the following tweet, which showed that the programme was also a boon for survivors, and intersects with Beverly Gooden’s much-needed #WhyIStayed hashtag, in terms of changing the conversation around domestic abuse.
It should be common knowledge that two women are killed every week in England and Wales by a current or former partner. That it’s not is a worrying indictment. For triggering reasons, Murdered By My Boyfriend shouldn’t be seen by everyone, but it’s arguably the most important hour of British television in 2014.
One of Britain’s most underrated storytellers is Dominic Savage. In the past couple of years, he has brought us Dive and True Love, which were episodic ensembles of characters whose lives were linked in various ways.
The Secrets were five stand-alone tales. The fifth of which starred Ashley Walters, Tosin Cole, and the wonderful Pippa Bennett-Warner. However, my focus is on the third episode, entitled “The Visitor”.
The protagonist is Dean (Anthony Welsh), a black teenager who has been adopted by a middle-class white family. He notices that a girl is periodically following him home from work. The girl in question is Cassie (Paige Meade), his biological sister.
Cassie’s integration into the family home is far from smooth. What I found so impressive was the way the story dealt with race, without ever explicitly mentioning the topic. Dean’s adopted family tick every archetype of white, genteel, middle-class England. Cassie’s arrival brings the twin issues of class and racialised gender, which don’t correlate with the family Dean is now a part of.
Dean’s adopted family – especially his mother – have an instant distrust towards Cassie, while his brother tries to sexually harass her. To them, Cassie is seen as an agent of disruption, rather than as a person.
Dean embodies what W. E. B. Dubois said about “double-consciouness”, and is forced into a tug-of-war between his biological and adopted family. Cassie, meanwhile is a shy, lonely teen, who just wants her big brother back.
We seldom see stories that depict the love between siblings. Even less so when those people are black. But in a time when we constantly have to reassert that black lives matter, “The Visitor” is black love in action.
These two aforementioned programmes aren’t the only examples of good domestic TV this year that featured PoC, but they were two that stood out to me. If you are yet to watch either of those shows, I’d recommend you do so at the first opportunity.
And remember the names that I mentioned. They are a soupcon of the black talent that exists in this country. I sorely hope they – and many more – get a chance to continue to show this in 2015.
 – Which meeting do I need to attend to ensure that phrase is banned from the English language?
 – Think Crash, but not as racially tone-deaf.
 – If you ever ask me, “Who would be good in this role?”, she’s often my first response.
Benedict Wong in ‘Top Boy’
Anjli Mohindra in ‘My Jihad’
Harish Patel in ‘The Driver’
Arsher Ali in ‘The Missing’
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“Two Weeks Notice” is Shane Thomas’s bi-monthly column encompassing. “Pop culture to sport, and back again“
A mixed-race film graduate, Shane comes from Jamaican and Mauritian parentage. He has been blogging about sport since 2010 at the website for The Greatest Events in Sporting History. He is also a contributor to ‘Simply Read’, the blogging offshoot of the podcasting network, Simply Syndicated. A lover of sport, genre-fiction, and privilege checking, Shane can be found on Twitter, both at @TGEISH and @tokenbg (and yes, the handle does mean what you think it means).
More by Shane Thomas
- Actors of Colour (mediadiversified.org)
- Daenerys Targaryen is back to “save the coloureds” Tour de #GameofThrones 2014 (mediadiversified.org)
- International Men’s Day: What Are We Celebrating? (mediadiversified.org)