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Noughts + Crosses Review 2020 Tv Show Series Season Cast Crew Online
Stars: Masali Baduza, Jack Rowan, Jonathan Ajayi
Adapted from Malorie Blackman’s hit series of novels, this smart drama highlights structural racism by flipping a familiar tale of star-crossed lovers on its head
It is hard in this world for the oppressed white man – and I don’t mean Laurence Fox. This six-part adaptation of Malorie Blackman’s Noughts + Crosses books (BBC One) transports us to a race-flipped 21st-century Albion. There, the lighter-skinned Nought majority have been ruled over by darker-skinned Cross colonisers from “Aprica”, since their conquest of Europe, some 700 years ago.
Our perspective on this alternative world is that of Callum (Peaky Blinders’ Jack Rowan) a Nought, and Sephy (newcomer Masali Baduza), who is not only a Cross, but, as the daughter of the home secretary Kamal Hadley (Paterson Joseph), a particularly privileged one.
Callum and Sephy were childhood playmates in the grand Hadley house, where Callum’s mother (Helen Baxendale) is employed as servant. When Callum is roped in to help serve drinks at a birthday party for Mrs Hadley (Bonnie Mbuli), they meet again and rekindle their affection. This love across racial lines is dangerous, however, and further complicated by the involvement of Callum’s family in a Nought paramilitary group.
If you were at school between 2001 and 2008, you will know much of that already. That is when the young adult book series by Blackman, a former children’s laureate, ruled libraries and book bags. It is hard to overstate the impact of the Noughts + Crosses series on a certain group of now twentysomething readers, but the fact that Stormzy (age 26) calls them his “favourite books of all time”, name-checked Blackman on his latest album and has a cameo in the series, gives some indication.
So the generation who grew up reading Blackman will be watching, but the 9pm time slot suggests the BBC is banking on wider adult appeal. The characters have been aged up by about five years, making Callum and Sephy full participants in Albion society, with all its racism – both insidious and overt. There is a well-known example from the book, in which Callum gets a flesh-coloured plaster that doesn’t match his skin tone, and much more besides. Sephy has an exciting array of higher education opportunities, whereas Callum’s best option is to enrol in the elite Cross military academy, Mercy Point, even though it means being alienated from his community and enduring relentless racist bullying. As a Nought, he is also subject to brutal policing, the routine disrespect of mispronounced names and the highly charged slur “blanker”, which never seems far from any Cross tongue, even Sephy’s.
Much of this rings discordant bells with viewers, which is down to the ingenious simplicity of Blackman’s premise. What distinguishes Noughts + Crosses from a counterfactual history series, such as The Man in the High Castle, or a historical-based fantasy, like Game of Thrones, is that it is barely fictionalised at all. This world is our world – same technology, same geography, same government – only flipped.
In this context, African cultural dominance can feel like a celebration. Aside from all the other things it is doing, this show acts as a still rare showcase for black talent, be it in the form of more roles for black actors or a soundtrack mixing contemporary African music with diverse Black British artists (currently available to listen to in full on BBC Sounds).
Could such a show have been made before Black Panther exploded lazy industry assumptions in 2018? Certainly, some of that film’s Oscar-winning Afrofuturism is evident here, but it’s more than just brilliantly stylish design with political resonance. The Africanised architecture (shot mostly in South Africa), the way black faces feature on all the advertising hoardings and news channels, but especially the way Afrocentric beauty standards are so pervasive that even white characters wear their hair in locs and braids – all this comes together to create an effect that is consistently jolting. Every scene includes a least one detail that wakes up the viewer (and keeps us “woke”) to so much racism that is otherwise absorbed, unnoticed into the texture of daily life.
These Noughts + Crosses characters don’t yet have complexity and nuance to match its world-building. At this stage, it is difficult to imagine audience interest in Callum and Sephy sustaining the show into a proposed subsequent series. Even so, this is vital viewing.
At a time when the absurdity of media “debates” on race reveals this country’s general lack of understanding, a show that so starkly demonstrates structural racism is revolutionary. Because it’s not just about some pink plasters, is it?
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