I was intrigued by the hotly anticipated 6-part drama, Undercover, staring award winning/ Oscar nominated Sophie Okonedo and award winning Adrian Lester. Not only because they are talented actors and the intriguing story, but in a rare feature on British television, the two leading actors are black.
What’s even more powerful is that their characters and the story isn’t hinged on their ethnicity. Without giving too much away, it’s an intense story written by award-winning playwright Peter Moffat, about undercover police officers, the death penalty, injustice, scandal, blackmail, love & marriage, deceit, neurological/mental and terminal illness and much more…
Undercover displays middle-class people of colour in prominent careers, but most importantly in real life situations doing normal things, that anyone can relate to.
They joys and the struggles of life.
After watching the first episode, I was torn by my own emotions of suspense, sadness, pity, disbelief, happiness and shock.
In recent months there’s been a spotlight on the lack of diversity on TV; from black (British) actors being stereotyped for certain roles and even having to go abroad (mainly to America) to get jobs.
Photo: Des Willie/BBC
Previously, Sophie Okenedo (who is of Jewish and Nigerian descent) stated that she receives more scripts for American productions, than British ones. She spoke about how welcomed she felt in New York, when performing on Broadway alongside Denzel Washington, in “A Raisin in the Sun.”
Moffat admitted that the casting of black lead actors was not planned from the beginning, but came about as the story evolved.
Some may argue that why is it worth talking about the actors being black, it’s 2016?!
Exactly, it’s 2016 and there’s still some way to go until we see a fair representation of Black/Asian and other minority groups on British television, but steps are being taken. It’s not completely gloomy, there have been black actors in British productions, including EastEnders, Luther and the ‘90’s sitcom Desmond’s, but is diversity starting to be fully uncovered on British TV screens? Of course diversity doesn’t begin and end with Black people, as the UK is a nation with a rich immigrant culture. Other ethnic groups have the same resources at their disposal to make their voices heard.
Photo: Sipa USA/Rex
Earlier this year, Chief Executive of the BAFTA awards, Amanda Berry admitted that there was still a lack of diversity on screen and behind the scenes. She claims it’s the film industry’s fault for not making roles for ethnic minority actors. Which translates into fewer ethnic minority actors being nominated for awards.
“Not enough films are being made with diverse talent in front of the camera.”
After taking a few minutes getting over the fact that the two lead character were black (yes, I admit it – growing up in England, I’ve watched British TV my whole life and this was a rare occurrence), I became completely submersed in the gripping story. Sophie Okonedo’s intense acting pulled me into her character, Maya, where I could feel what she felt. After that I didn’t focus on anyone’s skin colour, I was just transfixed by the acting, by the story, and the story is the main attraction.
I was also impressed by the acting of the children during the first episode, not because they are black, but because they were compelling and highlighted young British acting talent.
I can’t wait until episode 2, my Sunday nights at 9pm are planned for the next 5 weeks! Here’s the trailer for the BBC1 series Undercover.
Snippets of an African legacy, from a colourful perspective.