Malorie Blackman’s award-winning cult novel, Noughts & Crosses, is finally receiving the sleek TV adaptation it deserves. A love story centring around an interracial couple in a time where mixed race relationships are forbidden, Sephy and Callum are forced to keep their love for each other a secret. Set in turbulent times where black people are the ruling class and white people are the underclass, violence is brewing, and tension is on the rise. Nearly twenty years after the first book in the series was originally published this begs the question, in a time when society is so divided by race and politics, why the need for this TV series now?
Set in an alternate 21st century London, Albion, there’s a huge divide between the Noughts (colourless underclass) and Crosses (dark-skinned ruling class). Daughter of a prominent politician Sephy (played by Masali Baduza) has known Callum (played by Jack Rowan) since childhood; they love each other deeply but amidst all of the prejudice, scepticism, suspicion, and violent activity, they have had to keep their taboo relationship secret. Injustice runs deep in this version of present-day London. In a society that boldly discourages interracial relationships, Sephy and Callum are trying their best to negotiate their love for each other. There’s an unmistakably contemporary sheen on this story, even though we first read this novel nearly two decades ago. In a time where we’re currently so divided in the real world, this story seems even more urgent than when it was originally published.
Police brutality is thrown at the audience in the beginning of the very first episode with Cross officers violently attacking innocent Noughts, and for black communities it’s almost too much to bare. This is something black people are used to dealing with, used to seeing, and used to experiencing. Of course this is wrong, but police brutality against black communities is so common it’s become normalised. We’re used to seeing the news reports of innocent black lives dying at the hand of police offers, which is why seeing the roles reversed in Noughts + Crosses is hard to come to terms with. Through the story’s narrative we see the anger, bitterness, and bigotry that Noughts experience daily. Is this why the show has experienced so much backlash, as it hits a little too close to home? It makes you wonder, if the tables were really turned what would society be like? Would the world be any different?
The Noughts + Crosses TV adaptation isn’t the book we read all those years ago, it’s an emotional cinematic experience that’s hard to forget. No wonder it’s caused such a stir; Blackman’s reality feels so current and heart-breaking its difficult for a large portion of society to acknowledge and accept. Noughts + Crosses has made people uncomfortable, making viewers question their racial assumptions and unconscious biases. We’re living in a time where racial bluntness is commonplace, making this show all the more significant. “In this world, love is never black + white,” a subtle yet powerful statement appears in the trailer for the series, and it couldn’t ring truer in modern-day. Life isn’t always black and white. Emotional and challenging, this series is a must-see.
*Noughts + Crosses airs on BBC1 on 5th March, with all episodes available on iPlayer immediately after.
Written by J’Nae Phillips