The murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis on May 25, 2020, sparked global demonstrations and protests against police brutality, anti-Blackness, and systematic racism. Two years on, Black communities and anti-racist allies continue to fight for these causes, including here in the UK. In this country, a disproportionately high number of people from Black and ethnic minority backgrounds die as a result of use of force and restraint by police, according to
investigative charity Inquest, the most recent of which being the Chris Kaba. In addition, incidents such as the Windrush scandal illustrate the ways in which anti-Blackness is entrenched in our political and social systems.
Standing in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement is a powerful — and necessary — way to enact change, but it is also important to listen and learn about the Black British experience, be that by
reading books or articles on the matter, listening to podcasts, or supporting anti-racist organisations. What we watch is another way of educating ourselves, and that includes the television shows and films we stream.
To that end, here are a sample of movies and series that offer meaningful glimpses into the lives and experiences of the Black British community (including what it is like to encounter anti-Blackness first hand); some through comedy, others through drama.
Set in a fictional East London housing estate,
follows its residents as they deal with the ongoing tensions between drug gangs in the area. Top Boy Top Boy was taken off air in 2013 after two seasons but, much to fans’ delight, rapper Drake stepped in to revive the show, with new seasons landing in 2019 and 2022. Watch on Netflix UK Sunny D
Still living with his parents and fast approaching 30, Dane (played by British comedian Dane Baptiste) is becoming increasingly frustrated with life, and his hilariously unsuccessful attempts at bettering himself are brilliantly displayed in this
BBC comedy. Watch on BBC iPlayer Youngers
E4’s 2013 comedy-drama
centres on a group of aspirational teens from South East London who dream of making it big in the urban music scene. Youngers Watch on Amazon UK Timewasters
A struggling jazz band from South London discover that an elevator in a run-down block of flats is actually a time machine. A hilarious, joyful show of friendship and misadventure.
Watch on ITV Hub Meet the Adebanjos
An award-winning sitcom about a British family living in Peckham, Bayo and Gladys Adebanjo are a first-generation Nigerian couple who are raising their England-born children.
Meet the Adebanjos uses humour to portray what a clash of African traditional values and British culture can look like. All three seasons and 50 episodes are now available to stream on Netflix UK. Watch on Netflix UK Desmond’s
This classic Channel 4 sitcom centres on a British-Guyanese family whose barbershop becomes a social hub for their diverse south London community.
Watch on Netflix You Don’t Know Me
Based on the novel of the same name by barrister Imran Mahmood, BBC One’s
stars You Don’t Know Me The Last Tree’s Samuel Adewunmi as Hero — a young man from South London on trial accused of murder. He decides to tell his version of events, rather than what the barrister is preparing to tell the court. Sophie Wilde, Bukky Bakray, Yetunde Oduwole, and Roger Jean Nsengiyumva also star. Watch on Netflix Big Age
Bolu Babalola, Big Age follows four Black British friends as they traverse their mid-twenties from parenthood to maintaining friendships and relationships all while balancing work life with personal life. The comedy stars Ronke Adekoluejo, Racheal Ofori, C.J. Beckford, and Michael Workeye. Watch on All4 Small Axe
Directed by Oscar-winner Steve McQueen,
this BBC anthology film series tells five different stories of Black resilience and triumph from within London’s vibrant West Indian community. A celebration of Black culture — specifically food, music, and fashion — is at the heart of Small Axe, which went on to win numerous BAFTAs, as well as a Golden Globe, a Critic’s Choice Award, and a New York Critics Circle Award. Watch on BBC iPlayer Been So Long
A romantic drama set in Camden,
Been So Long sees Michaela Coel and Arinzé Kene show off their singing skills in a beautiful tale of love, motherhood, and modern dating told partly through music. Watch on Netflix Gone Too Far
Yemi (played by BAFTA nominee Malachi Kirby) can’t wait for his brother to come
to their family home and join him in Peckham. However, when Iku (O.C. Ukeje) turns up from Nigeria, Yemi’s less than impressed. follows them over the course of a day as the brothers work out what family really means in their case. Gone Too Far Watch on Amazon Prime UK A Moving Image
Nina (played by Tanya Fear) returns to the community she grew up in only to find it looks completely different from how she left it.
follows Nina as she learns about the gentrification of her neighbourhood, discovers A Moving Image how she may have been complicit in it, and works out what she can do, as an artist, to atone for that. Rent on Amazon Prime UK And They Knew Light Hannah Young/Shutterstock
Musician, author, and creator
Caleb Femi is behind the lyrical short film And They Knew Light, which offers a picture of what it's like to be young, Black, and living in London in the 21st century through poetry and elements of dance and visual art. Watch on Youtube Bullet Boy Shine/Bbc/Kobal/Shutterstock
Ashley Walters' second appearance on this list, this time appearing in 2004's
Bullet Boy. Ricky (played by Walters) is determined to turn his life around after a stint in prison, but is brought back into crime after a minor incident with a gang member. Bullet Boy demonstrates the effects inner-city crime can have on families, and how a seemingly trivial action can lead to a multitude of violent consequences. Watch on BFI Player from Dec. 5, 2022 The Last Tree
The Last Tree, a young boy named Femi sees his life change when he moves from his foster mother's home in rural Lincolnshire to London to live with his birth mother. An exploration of identity and family, this poignant tale has received high praise from critics. Rent on Amazon Prime UK Second Coming
Debbie Tucker Green’s BAFTA-nominated
Second Coming has been described as a " dreamy, ambiguous urban parable." Putting aside the supernatural element of this film (Jackie, played by Nadine Marshall, becomes pregnant by what appears to be divine intervention), Second Coming is full of stunning performances that perfectly illustrate the troubles of married life and parenthood. Rent on Amazon Prime UK Sitting In Limbo BBC/Left Bank Pictures/Des Willie Sitting In Limbo stars Patrick Robinson as Anthony, who — after 50 years of living, working, and paying taxes in the UK — is wrongfully detained by the Home Office and threatened with deportation. The Windrush scandal is something that, for most people, came to light only in the last few years, and this dramatisation will help educate viewers further on the injustices that took place. Watch on iPlayer Babymother
One to watch from the British Film Institute (BFI) archives,
Babymother follows the story of Anita (played by Anjela Lauren Smith), who's raising two young children with the help of her mother Edith (Corinne Skinner-Carter) in a North London estate. But when she’s asked to perform at a local show, her dreams of becoming a dancehall star start to come true. Described by the BFI as a "feminist triumph," offers insight into the colourful world of '90s British Caribbean dancehall culture and is widely considered to be the first Black British musical. Babymother Rent on BFI Player Babylon
This gritty 1980s flick follows a ground of young Black Londoners, who begin exploring the city’s reggae scene against the backdrop of personal dramas and systematic racism.
Watch on Amazon Entitled
The experience of a first-generation Nigerian immigrant as she moves to live in Peckham is reimagined in this 2018 independent short film.
Watch on YouTube Rocks
This coming-of-age drama stars BAFTA-winner Bukky Bakray as Olushola (“
Rocks”), a teenage girl from Hackney, London. The film follows Olushola as she and her brother try to avoid being put in the social care system after being abandoned by their mum. Watch on Netflix Welcome II The Terrordome Released in the 1990s, Welcome II The Terrordrome is set in a desolate future where Black people are segregated and forced to live in a place called Transdean. To its inhabitants, this place is known as the “Terrordrome” due to the constant torture, brutality, and oppression they are forced to endure.
The first film to get a UK theatrical release from a Black British female director (Ngoi Onwurah),
Welcome II The Terrodrome is an important piece of not only Black British cinema, but British cinema in general. Rent on BFI Player Films & TV series to learn about Black British history
While the films and shows above offer us insight into contemporary British Black culture and the struggles Black people face today in terms of racism and oppression, the works portray Black British culture time periods past. These films and TV shows will help viewers to build a picture of what historical events, cultural touchstones, and political movements led to Black British life as it is today.
In The Long Run
Created by and starring Idris Elba, Sky series
In The Long Run follows the Easmon family as they welcome a relative from Sierra Leone into their Hackney home. Set during the 1981 anti-racism protests that began in Brixton, this series uses humour to depict what it can be like to settle into British life and highlights the historical importance of the period. Watch on NOWTV Yardie
Idris Elba’s 2018 directorial debut,
is a film based on Victor Headley’s novel of the same name and tells the story of Dennis "D" Campbell, a man who crosses paths with the man who killed his brother while working on behalf of a Jamaican gangster in Hackney, London. Although some of the early scenes in Yardie Yardie are set in Jamaica, much of the action takes place in 1970s London, giving viewers a glimpse into what Black British culture looked like at that time. Rent on Amazon Prime UK Guerilla
Also set in 1970s London,
Guerilla is a TV series that follows a young couple (played by Freida Pinto and Babou Ceesay) whose world is shaken when they liberate a political prisoner and form a radical underground cell. Guerilla tells the story of how the political unrest and oppression at this time had very human consequences. Rent on Amazon Prime UK Young Soul Rebels
Two DJs embark on solving a friend’s murder against the backdrop of late-1970s London.
Young Soul Rebels shines a light on the youth movements of the time and takes us on a journey around the UK capital from a Dalston barber to a West End office to soul clubs and city parks. Rent on Amazon Prime UK Divide and Rule – Never!
This seminal documentary released in 1978 was produced by
the Newsreel Collective, a group of men and women in the 70s who highlighted the struggles of working-class Britons. In Divid and Rule – Never!, first and second generation Black and Asian immigrants and teenagers share their experiences of living in an era of discrimination and fascism in Britain. Watch for free on BFI Player Belle
A period drama based on the real-life, 18th-century experiences of an important figure in Black British history. This 2013 tells the story of Dido Elizabeth Belle Lindsay (played by Gugu Mbatha-Raw) the daughter of Captain Sir John Lindsay, a British Royal Navy officer, and Maria Belle, a woman enslaved under the regime Lindsay upheld. We follow Belle's story as she is raised by her aristocratic Great uncle, Lord William Murray.
Rent on Amazon Prime UK Pressure
Directed by Horace Ové,
Pressure is considered to be the first Black British feature-length film. Released in 1976, it represents the experiences of the Windrush generation and their children. It’s told through the perspective of Anthony (played by Herbet Norville), a second-generation Black British teenager whose family came to the UK from Trinidad. Rent on BFI Player Contributions from Sam Ramsden.
Get The Very Best Of Bustle/UK
Sign up for Bustle UK's twice-weekly newsletter, featuring the latest must-watch TV, moving personal stories, and expert advice on the hottest viral buys.
Subscribe to our newsletter >
This article was originally published on
June 4, 2020