TV & Film

26 Films & TV Shows Spotlighting The Black British Experience

From multi-award-winning anthology series to indie shorts.

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The murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis on May 25, 2020, sparked a number of global demonstrations and protests against police brutality, anti-Blackness, and systematic racism. A year 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, and incidents such as the Windursh 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 season but last year, much to fans delight, rapper Drake stepped in to revive the show. Season three is not yet available to stream, but seasons one and two are on Netflix UK.

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 2016 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.

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 British-born children. Meet the Adebanjos uses humour to portray what a clash of African traditional values and British culture can look like. All three season 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

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 shows 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

No Shade

Directed by Clare Anyiam-Osigwe BME, No Shade follows the story of freelance photographer Jade, who struggles to navigate through the modern-day dating world due to a lingering presence of colourism and the widespread fetishisation of black women.

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 award-winning work that authentically portrays London gang culture as it is today.

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 and she learns about the gentrification of her neighbourhood, discovers how she may have been complicit 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.

Rent on Amazon Prime UK

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 couple of 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 Netflix

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 Netflix

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

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

Contributions from Sam Ramsden.