I can recall going off on an angry tweeter tirade while watching the Channel 4 drama Top Boy which aired at the start of the year. For those who missed the memo, Top Boy is a TV series starring Ashley Walters and Kano, about a gang of black men who (yawn) sell drugs and find themselves in life threatening situations as try to navigate through the brutal and ruthless world of class A drug dealing. My annoyance stemmed from us having to go round this particular mulberry bush yet again. Yes, we get it. SOME young black men are involved in various acts of criminality (like many other races of people of course), and I don’t deny that it’s a story worth telling, but haven’t we got the message from Adulthood, Kidulthood, Bullet Boy, W10 LDN and any other identikit film/TV series that we’ve been exposed to over the last five years or so? I recall tweeting that I longed for the day that books by Black British authors such as Dorothy Koomson, Lesley Lokko and Lola Jaye were given the TV treatment to show that we aren’t one homogeneous bunch and our lives are as varied/ beautiful/complicated as any other race. So I was delighted to learn recently that my favourite book by Koomson, The Ice Cream Girls, is scheduled to be made into a TV drama which will air in Spring 2013.
No doubt I’ll be comparing the TV series to the novel when it comes out, and although the screen versions never quite compare to the books, I’m still super excited that it has been given the green light. When I heard the news, it got me thinking what other books by black British authors would make for good TV? So Mr TV Commissioner, if you’re reading, here are my suggestions.
LOVE ME by Gemma Weekes
I adore this little book. I so, so, so wished it had received the exposure it deserved, because it’s one of few books that I’ve read that perfectly captures the elements of being a young black girl in Blighty. The vernacular, the streets, the places and spaces so reminded me of my life as a single, childless twenty-something living in the big smoke that I read through the first few chapters feeling like I was hopscotching down memory lane. What starts off as a classic tale of unrequited love between the original awkward black girl, Eden, and her sexy, self-assured object of desire – Zed – suddenly shifts gears, transferring into a heart-wrenching tale about family secrets, redemption, cultural history and a woman’s journey toward self-discovery. It was not only beautifully written but traversed between the gritty urban streets of London and New York city, to the lush, earthy landscape of St Lucia. I can imagine this transferring beautifully on-screen.
BITTER CHOCOLATE by Lesley Lokko
Remember that old school eighties drama set in Australia, about a woman who got attacked by a crocodile but managed to shell out major moola for some pretty amazing plastic surgery, re-emerging as a successful model? I can’t recall the name of the series, but I remember it being a riveting drama that kept me on the edge of my seat alongside the rest of the nation. Although there aren’t any deadly animals involved, Bitter Chocolate by Lesley Lokko reminds me of that old school drama. The best way to describe this book is EPIC. The characters are EPIC. The book size (at 500 plus pages) is EPIC. The plot = EPIC, it’s just one big, gregarious, over the top piece of fiction that would make for an ideal TV mini series. The story is essentially a cautionary tale about how decisions we make could potentially negatively impact our lives. I can’t recall any narrative with black central characters getting the blockbuster treatment on British TV, so Bitter Chocolate would be perfect in all it’s brash, glamorous, melodramatic splendour.
ON BEAUTY by Zadie Smith
For some reason programme makers have a hard time processing the fact that a black middle class exists in this country. They have no problem portraying us as the underclass (see intro), or the ‘barely getting by’ type of working class (think Patrick Truman, market trader, Winston, or any other Black character to have graced Albert Square), but as educated, socially mobile, aspirational? You’d have to search long and hard to find anything of that nature on the box. For this reason I’d like to throw Zadie Smith’s On Beauty into the mix. Although the novel about two rival middle class families – one black, and one interracial – received countless accolades, it seemed to polarize a lot of readers. But l really liked it. It made Ivy League academia and intellectualism look crazy, sexy, cool. Also some of the social issues examined i.e. cultural identity in mixed race families, atheism versus traditional, black Christian values, would make for compelling viewing.
UGLY Constance Briscoe
There was such a buzz surrounding this book when it first came out that I’m quite surprised it hasn’t been optioned for a TV show already. Based on the best-selling memoir by Constance Briscoe, UGLY tells the harrowing tale of Briscoe who suffered physical abuse at the hands of her mother who disliked her for being a repeated bed wetter, and in her twisted eyes, ‘ugly’. Despite physical punishment being illegal in this country, there are still a considerable amount of folks within the Black community who continue to support it as a means of punishment. And although Briscoe’s case was extreme, a televised version of her book would present such a great opportunity to bring the issue to the forefront. Couple that with the fact that as a narrative it’s well-plotted, engrossing and has a positive, fairytale ending – and voila,you’re onto a ratings winner!