TV & Film

35 Films & TV Shows Spotlighting The Black British Experience

From BAFTA-winning films to indie shorts.

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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.

TV Shows

Chewing Gum

Mark Johnson

Michaela Coel's award-winning TV series Chewing Gum follows Beyoncé-obsessed Tracey Gordon as she tries to understand the world outside of her strictly religious household.

Watch on All4

Top Boy

William Richards/Netflix

Set in a fictional East London housing estate, Top Boy follows its residents as they deal with the ongoing tensions between drug gangs in the area. 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 Youngers centres on a group of aspirational teens from South East London who dream of making it big in the urban music scene.

Watch on Amazon UK

Timewasters

ITV2

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

BBC

Based on the novel of the same name by barrister Imran Mahmood, BBC One’s You Don’t Know Me stars 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

Black Earth Rising

YouTube

Michaela Coel stars as Kate Ashby, a 28-year-old legal investigator working in London. Kate was originally born in Rwanda, having been rescued from the 1994 genocide as a child. Her mother Eve Ashby, an international prosecution barrister, takes on a case against a Rwandan militia leader leading Kate to question her history.

Watch on Netflix

Big Age

Channel 4

Written by 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

Famalam

YouTube

A sketch show comprising of Black British comedians, Famalam contains a plethora of hilarious observations from Aunties battling it out in church to deciding to make the jump and leave the group chat.

Watch on BBC iPlayer

Films

Small Axe

BBC

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

Netflix

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

YouTube

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. Gone Too Far follows them over the course of a day as the brothers work out what family really means in their case.

Watch on Amazon Prime UK

Blue Story

Paramount

Timmy and Marco become best friends after meeting at school in Peckham, but exterior pressures and a never-ending cycle of gang war pushes them to become rivals. Starring BAFTA Rising Star winner Michael Ward, Blue Story is an authentic, award-winning piece of work.

Rent 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. A Moving Image follows Nina as she learns about the gentrification of her neighbourhood, discovers 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

In 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

YouTube

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," Babymother offers insight into the colourful world of '90s British Caribbean dancehall culture and is widely considered to be the first Black British musical.

Rent on BFI Player

Babylon

'Babylon' / Kino Lorber

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

'Entitled' / Netflix

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

YouTube

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

Sky

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

Playing Away

Director Horace Ové uses cricket as the backdrop in his film Playing Away to highlight the fact that racism isn't just perpetrated in words and actions but also in what people class as the ‘norm.’

Rent on BFI Player

Yardie

Idris Elba’s 2018 directorial debut, Yardie 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 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

chrisharris/Sky

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

YouTube

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

Burning An Illusion

Pat (played by Cassie McFarlane) is a young, independent black woman growing up in West London against the volatile backdrop of Margaret Thatcher’s Britain. Stop and searches are rife. As tensions rise and the Brixton and Toxteth protests draw ever closer, Burning An Illusion tells the story of how Pat has to work out where she’ll take a stand and keep her relationships intact.

Rent on BFI Player

Belle

Shutterstock

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

YouTube

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.

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