“The single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story.” – Chimamanda Ngozie Adichie
Currently on TV and in film in Britian, the prevailing narrative of black men and women are those in the Channel 5 documentary series Gangland and final film Noel Clarke’s successful trilogy Brotherhood. I walked out of Brotherhood and refuse to watch Gangland.
I am exhausted. The stories in Gangland are not untrue but their singularity creates a caricature of the lives of black people in the UK, London in particular, that does not apply to us all. And how could it possibly? But this stereotype of “scary” black men in hoodies committing crime can easily become instilled in the minds of the white majority in the UK and lead to the idea that all black people somehow are these one dimensional people who exist solely in this violent space.
The stories of the people in Gangland are important because it is a reality but the other stories of black people in Britain are equally a reality and equally deserve to be told, whether that be in documentary form or in comedy and drama. While it is the broadcaster’s responsibility, in this case; Channel 5, to be fair in their portray of all racial groups, show the good, the bad and the ugly of a community with the Afro-Caribbean people in this country if we see ourselves on TV en masse a majority of the time it’s for something negative. At some point in this seemingly perpetual cycle we as a community have to stop and investigate why this is happening and how we can bring balance.
The truth of the matter is broadcasters will televise what they believe will bring them ratings. If they broadcast something that draws a large viewership, they will have more of the same commissioned. Gangland draws large numbers because of its singularity; it is the only show on TV right now with black people as its main subjects therefore it will be watched. A dear friend pointed out that Michaela Coel’s Chewing Gum will return for its 2nd series on e4 and we also have Peter Moffat’s BBC drama Undercover to look forward to. Alas, that’s not good enough- there need to be more. In between waiting for those shows to once again grace our screens there is a gaping chasm that Channel 5 have exploited. And those who tuned into the documentary have fallen into the trap that feeds into this cycle that will see black British life portrayed on TV thusly for all eternity.
These stories, as ugly as they may seem to many, must be explored but I demand there be a wider variety of programming for black people and nonblack people of colour living in the UK. Our white counterparts can turn on the TV and immediately find representation for whoever they maybe and I demand the same. I refuse to watch Gangland and walked out of Brotherhood because I want more. I have often spoken of the problem with diversity in UK media and now as things are slowly starting to change for the better I am speaking about variety in that diversity- not all black people are the same. I watched Ava DuVernay’s Queen Sugar, it wasn’t for me so I watched Donald Glover’s Atlanta and that wasn’t for me, so I can watch Power, How To Get Away With Murder, Scandal, Being Mary Jane, Black-ish, Luke Cage, Insecure, The Haves and the Have Nots- this list is almost inexhaustible. My point is black Americans have options, us here in the UK do not have as many and people of colour in other European countries almost have none. Until we as viewers become as aware that it is as much our response to Channel 5 and other broadcasters’ inability to be diverse in their diversity as it is their dreadful failure to be better that results in programming like this then we will continue to see shows like this. These shows insidiously and implicitly seek to cement in the minds of those whose only picture of non-white people is the one they see on TV that we indeed live in a Gangland.
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