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BBC Commissions Ambitious 4-Part Film Series Telling ‘A Black History of Britain’

BBC Commissions Ambitious 4-Part Film Series Telling 'A Black History of Britain'

Written and presented by acclaimed historian and broadcaster David Olusoga, the BBC describes “A Black History of Britain” as a fresh approach to history and a lively national event which will demonstrate how black history has shaped the UK, and overturn the image of black history as a marginal side-bar to mainstream history.

Promising a re-telling of British history that is rich and revealing, the series will explore the lengthy relationship between the British Isles and the African continent, going as far back as Roman Britain to reveal that black British history is “an epic, sweeping story” that touches everyone.

The series will comprise of four films that will investigate how the lives of black and white Britons have been intimately entwined for centuries, drawing on new genetic and genealogical research, original records, expert testimony and contemporary interviews, as Olusoga builds a different national narrative filmed in the UK, across continental Africa, the Caribbean and the USA.

As Olusoga says: “This series will unveil a new type of black British history, because, to me, black history is everyone’s history. It’s the long, often tragic and always surprising story of Britain’s relationship with Africa and her peoples. It’s a history that takes place here in Britain but also in Africa and across the Caribbean and North America, and most of it is little known. But it’s also the story of those periods in our past when the rights, status and humanity of black people were among the big issues of the day, issues that helped shape the whole country and the empire. I’m really excited about presenting a black history that is a major part of the story of all us.”

Kim Shillinglaw, Controller of BBC Two and BBC Four, adds: “BBC Two has a special role to play in showing inspiring and informative television that no-one else would make. This important series will tell a new story of Britain, bringing to light tales that have never been told before and changing the way we all see our national story. Following the success of last year’s Britain’s Forgotten Slave Owners, I’m delighted that David Olusoga is working again with BBC Two on a subject no one else has ever attempted before at this scale for TV – with ambition, journalistic revelation and proper insight.”

Paul Reid, Director of Black Cultural Archives, says: “Black Cultural Archives are thrilled to partner with the BBC on A Black History of Britain. Our mission is to collect, preserve and celebrate the histories of African and Caribbean people in Britain. This exciting series will uncover the less-known historical narratives, providing an insight into the Black presence in Britain and documenting the richness of British history. As one of the leading archives specialising in Black British history and culture, we know we have an important role to play and significant contributions to make. Through academic research, digging deep into the archives and unearthing these histories together, we will piece together a fascinating story of Britain.”

“This is a history full of surprises, scandal and contradictions. It will be bristling with emotion, discomforting facts and controversy. The series will confront taboo subjects that are rarely explored – revealing how the Stuart kings were among Britain’s first big slave traders, and confronting the fact that many African kingdoms grew rich by trading in slaves.”

After the broadcast, audiences will be invited to research and nominate further people and events for addition to a “Black History Trail” as part of an effort to form a unique heritage trail and a lasting legacy for the series. 

The BBC press release also notes that this ambitious 4-part series is just one piece of other programming still to be announced, that will all share the theme of uncovering “lost, distorted or forgotten stories of Black Britons and the Black British experience.” 

“The range of bold and vibrant stories will cast fresh light on historical and contemporary Black British life, celebrating the fact that we are telling stories not made public before,” says the release.

“A Black History of Britain” was commissioned by Martin Davidson, Head of History Commissioning, and the executive producer will be Chris Granlund for BBC Production.

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