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Ten things to watch and listen to this month

We pick our TV and radio highlights


The Underground Railroad, 14 May Amazon Prime

An adaptation of Colston Whitehead’s prize-winning novel of the same name (2016). It tells the story of a network of safe houses that escaped slaves used to make their way to the north in the early 19th century US. The series depicts the brutality of life on the slave plantations. Thusa Mbedu plays escaped slave, Cora Randall. Joel Edgerton is slave-catcher Ridgeway who is determined to catch her because he failed to recapture her mother who escaped leaving Cora behind. The series combines unflinching and complex realism with touches of fantasy to recreate a picture of a society based on slavery, a system which cannot be left behind because its scars endure.

Anne Boleyn, Channel 5 date tbc

The familiar life and death of Anne Boleyn is radically reimagined in this three-part drama, which seeks to subvert traditional views of the queen as a temptress and manipulator of men. This psychological thriller is told from Anne’s perspective, rather than that of her serial abuser husband, Henry VIII. It shows Anne as a strong woman fighting injustice. The series is made by Fable, makers of the brilliant east-London set film, Rocks, and stars Jodie Turner-Smith, an actor of Jamaican descent. Turner-Smith explained how Anne’s story resonated with her, “Look at the last four years in America, and how certain politicians would speak about women that dared to be assertive or that demonstrated their intelligence, their power. Not to mention the ways in which society demonstrates its desire to make women powerless.”

Dr Miranda Kaufmann, author of Black Tudors: The Untold Story, says that people who are up in arms about colour-blind casting are “completely ignorant about the black presence in the period. John Blanke was a black trumpeter under Henry VIII. There were Black Tudor sailors, a silk weaver needlemaker, a seamstress.”

The Killing, BBC4 iPlayer

The first and best Scandi Noir. Watch all episodes of The Killing, Series One, on BBC i-player now.

Blinded: Those who Kill, BBC iPlayer

This Danish drama is a sequel to the dark and twisty Darkness: Those Who Kill. In the new series, detective Louise Begstein gets to grips with three unsolved murders from years earlier. Set in a boggy, misty forest, the atmosphere is dark and steeped in a deep sense of isolation as Louise seeks a serial killer who is hiding in plain sight.

Exterminate the Brutes, Sky Go

Raoul Peck, maker of I Am Not Your Negro and The Young Karl Marx, has made this new series that blends fact and fiction to examine the history of European colonialism and the concept of race in America. Josh Harnett stars in the scripted scenes, while archive footage and expert testimony build an unflinching narrative of genocide and exploitation.

Subnormal: A British Scandal, BBC date tbc

Steve McQueen, maker of the Small Axe anthology, has produced a new documentary about the Black British experience. Director Lyttanya Shannon has created a documentary about one of the biggest scandals in the history of British education. ‘Subnormal’ tells the story of how shocking levels of educational racism against Black pupils in the 1960s and 70s was finally exposed. Black children were routinely sent to special schools and labelled subnormal. This treatment caused decades of humiliation and pain to the families involved. The documentary also shows how a powerful coalition of Black parents, teachers and activists challenged the institutional racism and won change.

Three Families, BBC iPlayer

A BBC one drama, staring Sinead Keenan and Colin Morgan, centres on the impact of Northern Ireland’s repressive abortion laws. Gweneth Hughes has written this new drama based on real-life testimonies and court records. It tells the stories of three people whose lives were impacted by the denial of their right to an abortion in Northern Ireland.

A mother faces prison for trying to help her pregnant teenage daughter. A young couple learn that their wanted child will die of a fatal foetal abnormality. If they lived in England, Wales or Scotland, both families could access safe, legal abortions, but in Northern Ireland they cannot.


Resistance, Spotify Podcasts

How can we win lasting change in the fight against racism? Resistance is a show about refusing to accept things as they are. Each episode focuses on a lesser-known figure from the American anti-racist movement, such as Gloria Richardson. As the host Saidu Tejan-Thomas says, we always get more Martin Luther King and less Malcolm X, more peaceful resistance and less Black Panthers.

The Meaning of Zong, Radio 3 & iPlayer

Olivier award winner Giles Terea stars in his own debut play about the notorious massacre aboard the slave ship Zong in 1781. The story of the Zong is recounted and interpreted through the eyes of two main characters – the great radical and Abolitionist Olaudah Equiano and the Abolitionist Granville Sharp, played by Samuel West. This is a brilliant and powerful play which is, inevitably, harrowing as it explores the impact of slavery on those who drown and those who survive and resist.

The Zong was sailing to Jamaica when 132 of the weaker slaves, men, women and one child were thrown overboard. The ship’s crew claimed they ran out of water and had to murder some slaves to save the others and the crew, but in court it was revealed that heavy rain had fallen before the last slaves were drowned. Those slaves who were weak and ill were worth more to the slave-owners dead than alive because their ‘owners’ could claim on their insurance for their full value. The ensuing court case sparked public outrage and galvanised the emerging Abolitionist Movement in Britain. Protests lead by Olaudah and Sharp forced the court to reject the idea that mass murder was nothing more than a business transaction.

To find out more about the Zong, listen to the In Our Time, The Zong Massacre (26 November 2020 available now on BBC iplayer)

WEB Du Bois ‘The Souls of Black Folk’ (1903), Audio Books

Du Bois’ book is a fascinating history of race in America and a key analysis of the way racism impacts on those who endure it. Black people in the South need the right to vote, the right to a good education and to equality and justice. Du Bois developed his idea of “double consciousness” – the idea that black people’s experience, of being both black and American, married two unreconciled strivings. Black Americans had “a sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others, of measuring one’s soul by the tape of a world that looks on with contempt and pity”.


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