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Culture

13 things to read, watch and do this Black History Month UK and beyond

In honor of Black History Month UK, these are PORTER’s new and unmissable culture picks to read and watch – plus, the must-see play and new exhibitions showing in London now. By FEDORA ABU

Lifestyle

READ

Ordinary People by Diana Evans

Set against the backdrop of Obama’s election, and taking its name from John Legend’s 2004 song, Ordinary People delves into the interior lives of two thirty-something couples living in London as they navigate parenthood, unfulfilled career ambitions and the waning passion in their relationships. Through her lyrical prose and close observations, author Diana Evans builds up a richly detailed portrait of the Black British middle class that’s smart, soulful and deliciously readable.

Brit(ish): on Race, Identity and Belonging by Afua Hirsch

Never one to shy away from tricky conversations, journalist and broadcaster Afua Hirsch invites readers to re-examine what it means to be British in a book that’s broad in scope. Sharing stories of her search for belonging as a mixed-race woman growing up in the south-London suburb of Wimbledon, Hirsch also casts her eye back to Britain’s imperialist past – including the painful aspects that have often been glossed over – and confronts the indelible mark it’s left on our present.

Rainbow Milk by Paul Mendez

Paul Mendez’s semi-autobiographical debut novel traces the life of Jesse, a gay, Black, working-class man in the UK’s West Country, who, after being outed and disfellowshipped from his Jehovah Witness community, flees to London and makes a living as an escort. Raw and unflinching, Rainbow Milk has notes of James Baldwin’s Another Country, and has quickly cemented the author as an exciting talent to watch.

Taking Up Space by Chelsea Kwakye and Ore Ogunbiyi

Published by rapper Stormzy’s Merky Books imprint, Taking Up Space sees authors Chelsea Kwakye and Ore Ogunbiyi confront institutional racism at Britain’s elite universities. While studying at Cambridge, Kwakye and Ogunbiyi found themselves among just a handful of Black women, faced with microaggressions, feelings of imposter syndrome and very little support. Their book serves as both a guide to the next generation of Black students and a rousing manifesto for change.

Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo

Bernardine Evaristo’s eighth novel quickly became her bestselling after it was jointly awarded last year’s Booker Prize, making her the first Black winner and, subsequently, the recipient of long-overdue recognition. Girl, Woman, Other celebrates the multitudes of Black British womanhood through the interwoven tales of 12 diverse characters, from feminist playwright Amma in London to the 93-year-old farm-dwelling Hattie, with each brought to life by Evaristo’s sharp humor and distinctive, poetic style.

Steve McQueen’s Mangrove

WATCH

Mangrove

Steve McQueen, the critically acclaimed film-maker behind 12 Years A Slave, Widows and Shame, turns his hand to Small Axe, a five-part anthology series for the BBC that tells the stories and experiences of Black people in Britain. Mangrove, which opens this year’s BFI London Film Festival and has already attracted five-star reviews, focuses on a group of activists who face a highly publicized trial in 1970, following a protest against police ­– with Emmy-nominated actress Letitia Wright portraying prominent British Black Panther leader Altheia Jones-LeCointe.

Rocks

Few films have generated quite as much buzz this year as Rocks, a coming-of-age tale, directed by Sarah Gavron, about a group of teenage girls living on an east London estate that’s drawn comparisons to Céline Sciamma’s Girlhood. At the film’s heart is Shola (aka Rocks), a British-Nigerian schoolgirl who’s tasked with taking care of herself and her brother when their single mother disappears. Alongside charismatic performances from its street-cast actors, the sensitive script, gritty soundtrack and low-budget realism make for a tender, uplifting movie that’s sure to stick with you.

Coming-of-age drama Rocks is available to watch on Netflix now

I May Destroy You

Michaela Coel’s groundbreaking show quickly became one of the most-talked-about TV moments when it debuted earlier this year. Praised for its bold depiction of consent and trauma, I May Destroy You also serves up an authentic portrayal of Black British millennial life that’s rarely seen on screen. The equally provocative Chewing Gum that catapulted Coel to stardom is also a must-watch — but it’s her most-recent project that’s marked her out as one of this generation’s most-exciting auteurs.

Emma Dabiri, author of Don’t Touch My Hair, presents a documentary on Afro hair this month for Channel 4

Me and My Hair: Black and Proud

As part of Channel 4’s Black History Month UK programming, academic and broadcaster Emma Dabiri presents a documentary on Afro hair, examining how it shapes the Black British experience, delving into the science and busting widespread myths. In her 2019 book, Don’t Touch My Hair, Dabiri skilfully unpicked the history of Afro hair and how it intersects with issues such as racism, colonialism and slavery. This promises to be an equally insightful and frank study of an underserved subject.

Belle

While the British film industry has long had a penchant for period dramas, Amma Asante’s Belle, starring Gugu Mbatha-Raw, is among only a handful that center on people of color. Inspired by an 18th-century painting, the film fleshes out the true story of Dido Elizabeth Belle, the mixed-race daughter of a Royal Navy admiral and enslaved Black woman, who’s sent to live with her aristocratic uncle, Lord Mansfield. In between the elaborate sets, frocks and jewels, there’s a heart-warming love story – with a social-justice spin.

L-R: Playwright Roy Williams, actor Giles Terera and director Clint Dyer at London’s National Theatre, where Death of England: Delroy will run from October 21 to November 28

DO

Death of England: Delroy at the National Theatre, London

This month, the beloved National Theatre finally reopens with a gut-punching one-man play set in London under lockdown. A response to their hit production, Death of England, Clint Dyer and Roy Williams’ latest work, Death of England: Delroy, stars Michael Balogun (taking over from Hamilton’s Giles Terera, who has had to pull out due to emergency surgery) as Delroy, a working-class Black man narrating the events leading up to his arrest. Expect a timely commentary on questions of race and identity in modern-day Britain. From October 21 to November 28

Toyin Ojih Odutola: A Countervailing Theory at the Barbican, London

In her first-ever UK exhibition, Nigerian-American artist Toyin Ojih Odutola presents 40 black-and-white drawings rendered in pen, pencil, chalk and charcoal and commissioned exclusively for the Barbican’s Curve Gallery. The highly anticipated show invites viewers into an imagined pre-historic universe ruled by queer Black warrior women, each drawing a fragment of the epic storyboard. Fans of Odutola’s subversive, mythical creations include singer Solange Knowles, a friend and collector, and author Zadie Smith, who has written an essay for the exhibition’s catalogue. Until January 24, 2021

Phenomenal Women: Portraits of UK Black Female Professors at the Southbank Centre, London

Previously scheduled to take place at City Hall before the lockdown, Phenomenal Women (now at the Southbank Centre) showcases Bill Knight’s portraits of Britain’s 35 Black women professors. The exhibition builds on the research of Dr Nicola Rollock, whose work sought to shine a spotlight on the most under-represented group in higher education, and forms part of Southbank’s wider Black History Month programming, which includes talks with Black Lives Matter co-founder Alicia Garza and poet Claudia Rankine. From October 10 to November 8

A Parting Gift; Hers and Hers Only from A Countervailing Theory (2019) © Toyin Ojih Odutola

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