Noughts and Crosses

I remembered reading the novel Noughts and Crosses by Malorie Blackman when I was younger and thoroughly enjoying it, so I was thrilled to hear it was being adapted into a six part BBC series, particularly since it had been a while since I read it so felt like I was going into it with fresh eyes. The story takes place in a dystopian world where Aprica (or as we know it, Africa) colonised Albion (equivalent to Britain), which is now a partially segregated society made up of the ruling black crosses and the oppressed white noughts.

The show aims to explore race politics and demonstrate the injustice black people face within our society by flipping the roles and power dynamic of white and black people. The most obvious example of this is the depiction of police brutality against the noughts. They are frequently thrown up against police vans or to the ground whilst having the slur ‘blanker’ spat at them.

Another brutal example of the discrimination experienced by the noughts is within the wider justice system. The series shows us how the noughts are faced with far harsher sentences, and then treated so much worse once they are inevitably put in prison. The courts are not there to provide justice for the noughts, they are there to punish them, and this could not be made clearer than through the treatment of the noughts once they are inside prison.

However, beyond the blatant discriminatory behaviours, the aspects of the show that I found more interesting were the far more subtle examples of the power of the crosses permeating society. Examples of this that I found most intriguing were how the noughts in the army have their hair corn-rowed, as is required as part of the military dress-code, Sephy (a cross) giving Callum (a nought) a plaster that doesn’t match his skin tone, and only ever seeing crosses on the tv in the background of scenes. It is these subtler nuances of the show, rather than the bigger acts of racism, that make the world seem so realistic and draws a true parallel between this fictional dystopia and the real world we live in.

The main way in which the story deviates from our world today, however, is in the criminalisation of interracial relationships, which brings us to the main plot point that draws us into the show; the illegal relationship between Sephy and Callum. The two met and became friends as children because Callum’s mother, Meggie, works as a housekeeper for Sephy’s parents and she would often bring Callum to work with her during the school holidays. When the two run into each other at a party where Callum is working and Sephy is socialising they develop a romantic relationship, and become the star-crossed lovers at the centre of the show.

Unfortunately, not only is this illegal, placing Callum in significant danger if their relationship is discovered, but Sephy’s failure to understand Callum’s life and the way society, and the ruling crosses, treat him continually proves to be a source of conflict for their relationship. No matter how good her intentions are, Sephy repeatedly fails to consider how certain experiences may be different for Callum, particularly with regard to how authority figures and organisations treat him. Their relationship is an excellent representation of how, even when making a conscious effort, there will always be things that the privileged overlook when it comes to the experiences of the oppressed.

Finally, the depiction of the two mothers in the show is also particularly noteworthy. Watching their relationship to one another and how they aim to prioritise the welfare of their children is incredibly insightful. Whilst you cannot fault Jasmine’s concern for Sephy, her treatment of Meggie when under pressure always highlights how those in power are prepared to sacrifice those without it in the name of protecting those close to them.

This leads to an intelligent and brilliantly told story of structural racism with the deliberate intention of making the viewer uncomfortable.  I would definitely recommend to anyone that they watch this show.

Anne with an E

Anne with an E is a Netflix original show based on the story of Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery, a favourite childhood book series of mine, but with a darker twist.

The show is truly impressive in how it serves to retain the integrity of the original story whilst fleshing out the impact Anne’s childhood in an abusive orphanage had on her mental health and expanding the cast and subplots to be far more inclusive and diverse.

The consideration given the Anne’s mental health is a particular focus of the first season of the show which presents us with multiple flashbacks that Anne experiences of her life at the orphanage. Further into the show these lessen, most likely as a reflection of Anne settling into life at Green Gables and leaving behind her abusive past.

Whilst some may consider this a failing of the show, perhaps an unrealistic representation of dealing with traumatic experiences, I choose to consider the show in a more generous light. I believe that not only does the historical context allow for a little more forgiveness regarding the limited extent to which the show can explore mental health issues, but also accept that various narratives moved on and leaving behind the exploration of Anne’s traumatic past opened up the show to demonstrate other diverse narratives.

One of my favourite things about this show is that it is set in the 19th century in Canada but does not lazily insist on only portraying the storylines of straight white people. Instead, we are given both non-white and LGBTQ+ characters, both of which are rarely seen in historical dramas.

This led to one of my favourite story lines of the most recent season which followed a young Native American girl being taken to a reservation school where she was forced to assimilate to white Christian culture. I will acknowledge that I am unsure of the opinion of any Native American individuals so I cannot comment on the sensitivity or accuracy of the story line, and will therefore limit my commentary to simply expressing how much I enjoyed watching it.

Furthermore, the themes of women’s rights and racism that are threaded throughout the season stand up nicely against the backdrop of 19th century life in Canada and the prejudices expectations, or lack thereof, women and people of colour come up against. However, the success of the show’s inclusion of such themes and story lines is found its ability to in no way lose any of the charm found in the original books.

Overall, if you’re a fan of the original book series or just a good historical drama but looking for more diverse representation then I would definitely recommend giving this show a watch.