By Saidat Giwa-Osagie
“Everything will go back to the way it was,” says Oliver (played by Nicholas Pinnock), the protective dad in the first episode of ITV’s Unsaid Stories. He’s talking about race relations in Britain, but in a year where we’ve experienced the upheaval of normalcy and thousands have protested against racial injustice during a global pandemic, could he be wrong?
Unsaid Stories is a four-part miniseries of short films that draws inspiration from the recent Black Lives Matter protests, following the killing of George Floyd in the USA. The stories are written by Black screenwriters and the series was produced quickly during lockdown in July. I spotted the ads alongside other clips for ITV’s Black Voices campaign and was intrigued. It was only last year the channel introduced the first Black family to the cobbles of Coronation Street. I wondered how the channel would do more to address its lack of racial diversity.
Unsaid Stories succeeds in highlighting racism through the filter of everyday situations: the dad versus the adamant teen, the awkward run-in with the ex, a dinner date, or a visit to your mum’s. We’ve either seen or been these people before. The characters are as real as you and me in 2020. In “Generational,” the characters don gloves and masks on their way to a protest march. As TV writers wrestle with including COVID-19 into new storylines, the episode embraces this reality and shows it’s not afraid to contend with new and pressing issues.
As George Floyd’s breath extinguished from his body, it unleashed a whirlwind of activity around the world, including the UK where protestors gathered in major cities, and toppled monuments to slave traders. The protests, the statues, the centuries of racial discrimination – it all seems so big and daunting, but Unsaid Stories uses intimate and ordinary settings to show how the fissures of racism create conflict in everyday life. Racism isn’t just a fearsome Goliath lurking out there or the awkward elephant in the room. It’s as ubiquitous as the socket fittings and light fixtures. In a series of short films featuring two leads, racism is the third, invisible and recurring character.
Racism is a time traveller too. In every episode, the characters reflect on past traumas which bubble to the surface in the present day. The couple in “Look at Me” bond through upsetting childhood memories of being racially profiled by police after they are stopped while going out on a date. In “I Don’t Want To Talk About This,” Thea (Adelayo Adedayo) tells ex-boyfriend Tom (Joe Cole) about the humiliation she suffered at the hands of her teacher who resented her because she was Black and upwardly mobile. One only needs to look at the numerous tabloid headlines scorning the wealth of Black footballers as a broader real-life example of Thea’s story.
Unsaid Stories weaves history with the present, showing they are inextricably connected. In the final episode (written by and starring Nicôle Lecky) a mixed-race woman recalls her white mother’s behaviour with a Black delivery man and relates it to her behaviour today. Racism is often treated as a foreign relic from the past in Britain. I remember learning extensively about the 1960s US Civil Rights Movement in school but was never taught about the UK’s African slave trade, or Black figures in British history.
If we cannot confront the past, how will we better the future? The conclusion of “Generational” asks this question, as it’s revealed that Oliver’s reluctance for his daughter to attend the BLM protests is because of a horrendous racist incident in his younger years. We cannot live in the past, but we must confront and conquer it to ensure we see a brighter future.
I would have liked to see a few slower moments added into each episode, like “Look at Me” did. The brief silences allowed us to insert ourselves into the couple’s minds after they were racially profiled by police. It makes for a richer experience when the gaps allow us to put ourselves in the characters’ shoes.
The series sifts through the murky, insidious and entrenched nature of British racism and intersects it with class, gender and discrimination against darker skin tones, aka colourism. The stories are pointed, direct and delivered in bite-sized morsels. The skill of the talent behind and in front of the camera is evident throughout the series. I hope the writers, directors and cast are able to tell more stories that showcase the full multitude of their talents and passions.
Unsaid Stories is an unabashed but brief sketch of modern-Britain and anti-Black racism.
The conversations in the miniseries will be familiar to Black viewers, but the series does its best to highlight aspects of anti-Black racism that its main audience may not understand. I think the beauty of short films is their limited length. Not a moment can be wasted. Overall, the brevity of each episode is just enough to introduce a talking point and allow viewers to reflect on the message. Unsaid Stories says a lot with a little.
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