By Sophie Fennelly
Like many other avid bookworms, I discovered Malorie Blackman’s ‘Noughts and Crosses’ series when I was slightly too young to understand the wider themes, but I devoured it none the less. As a ten-year-old, I thought that racism was a thing of the past. I had only been taught about figures such as Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King. The only other time anyone had ever discussed race with me was when my mum encouraged me watch Obama’s inauguration in 2009. Blackman’s series shaped my understanding of racism as a pervasive force within the society in which I was growing up.
I was excited when it was announced in 2016 that BBC were going to make an adaptation of the series for BBC one. However, after four years of radio silence, my excitement had dwindled. I assumed that this adaptation, like so many others, had been put on the back burner. Yet, in an interview with the Guardian on Tuesday, Blackman announced how she feels that now is the right time for a BBC Noughts and Crosses drama. She believes that the industry has come to the realisation that diverse stories have the potential to make money, citing Black Panther and Hidden Figures as examples. Whilst the revenue that these made is an undeniable indicator of their success, there have been successful films telling diverse stories like these for the past decade.
For example, ‘The Help, was released in 2011 and made $216.6 million at box office, which is not dissimilar to the revenue of Hidden Figures. Perhaps the key reason for Blackman and the BBC’s sudden decision that this is the right time for this adaptation is more related to the desire for conversations about race to be had within the media. The 2020 Academy Awards came under fire for the lack of diversity in the nominations, a criticism that has been hurled at the Academy since 2015. Each year since, the calls for more diversity and recognition have grown stronger and louder.I would argue that it is this sort of criticism that has fuelled more public debate and discussion of issues surrounding racism and diversity.
In late 2018 the film adaptation of the young adult book ‘The Hate You Give’ was released. Its story follows sixteen-year-old Starr Carter quest for justice after witnessing her childhood best friend be shot by a police officer after being pulled over. The film received great critical acclaim across the board, particularly from the Rolling Stone, who called it an ‘exceptional adaptation’, and many argue that its power is in its truth, as the film can’t help but draw allusions to Michael Brown, Sandra Bland, and Emmett Till. These were also the inspiration for the recent film ‘Queen and Slim’ which has been dubbed ‘simultaneously beautiful and troubling’ by The Independent. The film follows the title characters’ lives on the run after accidentally killing a police officer who tries to shoot them on their way home from a Tinder date.
It seems to be no coincidence that both these films received great critical acclaim, much of which is a result of the fact that these films are rooted in true stories. What can be taken from these films is an appetite for more stories about these real events. This is where Noughts and Crosses comes in. Blackman states in her interview with The Guardian that ‘The things that he [Callum] goes through particularly in school happened to me’.
Blackman states that she believes the series will be ‘released at a time when it could make a
bigger impact than when it was first announced four years ago.’ Looking at the success of these other recent films, it’s hard to disagree. Yet I do not think it is because of the commercial success of the other films. After all, these films may have made millions of dollars, but the majority are a long way from catching up with the highest grossing films of all time. It seems that now, more than ever, there is a desire to listen to the stories of those who are most disadvantaged and discriminated against, which is why this is the right time for Noughts and Crosses.