Channel 4’s The Talk is hauntingly timely. Following on from the Black Lives Matter protests which took place in the UK and globally, the one-off docu-film looks at the conversation Black families have to have with their children on the topic of racism.
From the very first instance, the tone is set as writer Gary Younge highlights the effect of racism with a bold, hard-hitting statement: “The consequences can be death.”
Featuring interviews from Black celebrities such as Rochelle and Marvin Humes, television presenter Ade Adepitan, musician Tinie Tempah and Little Mix star Leigh-Anne Pinnock, the film shows that when it comes to racism, not much has changed in the UK.
Although all interviewees were all born in different eras, they have a very similar – if not the same – experience of prejudice.
At one point, Ade Adepitan speaks of how he was told he couldn’t play the trumpet at school because of the size of his lips. And it might as well have been the same story, as actor Lennie James – who is seven years Adepitan’s senior – recalls the exact same incident when he was growing up.
Split into different sections from “lost innocence” – where young Black children experience racism for the first time – to “it’s different for girls” and the micro-aggressions then faced as a grown-up, the 50-minute long film explores the various levels of mistreatment.
Rochelle Humes talks of how her own white family members treated her differently when she was young, while Tinie Tempah recalls being laughed at in school when his Nigerian surname was read out in class – a form of embarrassment that is so commonly felt by Black people.
All participants talk of how they shrugged off overt racist comments and slurs, with this idea that we as Black people have to “learn to adapt” to a racist world in order to prosper.
It’s moments like this that strike a powerful chord – because although we as a society know this isn’t how it should be, this is the everyday lived experience for Black people.
Throughout the film, you’ll hear comments such as “you have to be 10 times better” or see how Black men must prepare for the words, “you fit the description” when stopped by the police, which will either anger you, resonate with you, or both.
You’ll see how racism can be twisted in a way to portray the victim – Black people – as the perpetrator, with rugby player Maro Itoje speaking of moments when he was laughed at by so-called friends and then told “it’s not all about race” when trying to defend himself.
Appearance and colourism is also touched upon as the experiences of men and women are explained.
Humes shares some of the backhanded comments she received, which will be very familiar to many Black women – some of those being “you’re pretty for a Black girl” and “you’re lucky you got a good nose” as if to say she’s attractive because she didn’t inherit features seen as stereotypically “Black”.
On the other end of this disrespect is journalist Gillian Joseph’s daughter, Tiwa, who was told she had “stereotypically Black features” – something that impacted on her and took her a while to feel confident with.
These are comments most Black people will be able to relate to, with Leigh-Anne Pinnock admitting she tried to relax her hair when she was young for it to appear straighter and Rochelle revealing in a very emotional scene that she even tried to scrub the Blackness off her own skin when she was a child.
If this alone doesn’t bring tears to your eyes, the shocking racial slurs and name calling each person has received from as young as five will. Can you imagine being told at the age of seven, “I didn’t know butterflies could be brown,” because you had your face painted at a party? Well, Emeli Sandé can.
The film shows how such stupid and ignorant comments can often seem harmless, but when built up from childhood to adolescence and then adulthood, are bound to have an effect. A feeling that is felt amongst everyone featured in the film is that they wished they knew what they know now, implying that these are conversations that need to be had with children from a very young age.
Sandé says she’d love to go back and talk to her “13-year-old self” while Leigh-Anne insists on teaching her children about Black history.
However this idea does pose more issues with Gillian Joseph comparing this to “robbing” Black children of their childhood. While Diversity’s Ashley Banjo hopes things will get better and therefore he won’t have to have “the talk” with his children, Joseph feels her and daughter’s experiences are “parallel” despite them being decades apart.
So often newer generations are told the experience of Black people has improved, but this isn’t the case as Lennie James so passionately points out in the doc. Adepitan agrees, though suggests that while racism still exists, it’s more “complicated and insidious” today because it’s systemic.
The film therefore leaves us deep in thought about when and how we should be having “the talk”. Will things ever reach a point where it won’t need to happen at all, or will more children have to be “robbed” of their childhood in order to protect their future?
The Talk is on Channel 4 at 10pm. Check out what else is on with our TV Guide.