Black British Life coming to the BBC


Historian David Olusoga who will present the documentary “Black and British: A History Forgotten” on BBC TWO 9/11/2016.

Throughout the rest of this month, BBC channels BBC TWO and BBC FOUR will be at the forefront of illustrated black life and history, specific to Britain, according to the Voice newspaper.  The season of programming, which will feature radio shows, documentaries and films, is simply titled “Black and British”, exploring the history of black communities in Britain as well as following contemporary narratives too.

Writing for the Voice, Nadine White states:

“After approximately 18 months in the works, the BBC will unveil a season of programming celebrating the achievements of black people in the UK and exploring the rich culture and history of black Britain called ‘Black And British’. According to the BBC, Black and British season will feature bold, vibrant and provocative stories, overturning preconceptions and challenging widespread – albeit covert – stances on the matter. The season will also cast a fresh light on black history, examining the contribution and impact of black people in the UK, as well as interrogating just what it means to be black and British today.”

You can find out more about the programme scheduling and catch up on certain features (if in the UK) via iPlayer from this BBC website.


Yellow Fever (2012)

Exploring the ‘concept of skin and race’ as well as ‘the ideas and theories sown into our flesh’ Yellow Fever  is the poetic short film by animator, producer and director Ng’endo Mukii. Originally made in 2012 at the Royal College of Art, Mukii experiments with various forms of expression in order to illustrate, as she puts it, the ‘schizophrenic self-visualization that I and many others have grown up with.’

You can view this remarkable and moving film below (via the filmmaker’s Vimeo channel) and find out more about Mukii and her other works on her website.

Small Island (2009)

via the BBC

via the BBC

Based on the 2004 prize-winning novel by Andrea Levy, this television film was first aired by the BBC in 2009. Artfully intersecting the life of a married couple in England with the journeys of three young Jamaicans venturing across the Atlantic following the Second World War, this story explores notions such as home, family, belonging and nationalism as well as empire. Captured beautifully, each character learns to deal with how race and racism suddenly effects their position in society as well as how they relate to those around them in the post-war world.

Belle (2014)



Starring Gugu Mbatha-Raw and inspired by the 1779 painting of aristocrat Dido Elizabeth Belle with her cousin Elizabeth Murray at Kenwood House where they grew up together, director Amma Asante and writer Misan Sagay delivered Belle back in 2014. The painting of the beautiful cousins was commissioned by their great-uncle William Murray, 1st Earl of Mansfield and Lord Chief Justice of England. Dido was born to Maria Belle (a slave in the West Indies of African descent) and Captain John Lindsay, a naval officer. Following her mother’s death, Lindsay took Dido to England where she would be henceforth raised by Murray and his wife.

The film focuses on a very specific period of Dido’s life, which is set against some of the most gruesome details of the 18th century trans-Atlantic slave trade and slavery in the colonial plantations, such as the heinous and yet common practice of white crews drowning African slaves during the middle passage and slave rape respectively. Additionally, the key theme of the film – the emergence of racist thought – is handled evenly and in this case becomes complicated by the British practices of arranged marriage as well as class and respectability politics.

While this aspect of the film in itself is commendable, the highlights of the film came when Asante directed the audience’s attention to the racialised imagery (via Dido’s own perceptivity) depicting blacks as the servants and subordinates of the social order. There are in fact many works by European authors illustrating the beauty, complexity, intellect and authority of men, women and children of colour during this period (1700s – 1800s), however as explored by filmmaker Tessa Boerman in her documentary Painted Black/Zwart Belicht (2008) these works are often ignored by the art historian community. In many ways the film Belle, just like the real-life painting of its titular character, challenges this attitude as well as the narrative of inferiority applied to colonised peoples.