If you belong to a circle of drinking buddies who consider themselves men and women of thinking, you would have some point debated the alternate course of history that Africa would have taken had it not been colonised. You may have even considered the prospect of a reverse colonisation, where it was the Europeans who lived under African rule. Noughts and Crosses explores this theme, turning racial dynamics on their head, and only one episode in, it’s very intriguing.
First of all, we see that colonisation may have made the British Isles much sunnier, as the weather has been impeccable in Albion (Great Britain and Ireland). Secondly, we see how African, or rather Aprican rule, may have influenced the language of its empire. Rather than foremen or drill sergeants shouting ‘Come on!” or “Move it!” to ginger their crew, they would shout, in Yoruba, “Oya!” or “Kia-Kia”. Mummy and Daddy would be Mama and Baba. “African” (Dutch Wax, really) prints are also the leading motif for dressing in high society.
Rather than niggers, there are blankers. It doesn’t quite pack the punch of having actual history behind it but the oppressed are just as frustrated with their oppression as African Americans and black South Africans at the peak of overt racism. Police brutality means, by episode 5, there will probably be a ‘Nought’ (White) rap group called Blankers With Attitude doing their version of “Fuck the Police”.
There are rumblings of an uprising, as well as the promise of forbidden love for the protagonist. It’s all very nicely set up, the way good pilots can be and the remainder of the series (available on BBC iPlayer) seems very promising.
It was a little unsettling though, perhaps because it provokes thinking the way satire should. The preview to episode 2 shows the Home Secretary urging Crosses not to embrace integration/dilution so readily, basically adopting today’s rightwing rhetoric but shooting it out of a Black speaker. Will that merely turn a mirror on society or, in a post-coronavirus world, possibly impel a fragmenting of society?
A final thought on the casting. In a woke, colorist-aware, cultural appropriation protesting world, one of the things that first strikes you is the obviously intentional curation of the Black members of the cast. Every single person is unmistakably West-African Sepia, a la Soyinka’s ‘Telephone Conversation”. Perhaps that’s also to turn Aryanism on its head.
What happens next? I’ll be staying tuned.