Noughts + Crosses: Race-reversal drama divides viewers and critics

Adaptation of Malorie Blackman novel imagines alternate reality in which white people are the underclass and black people are the ruling elite

Ellie Harrison
Friday 06 March 2020 10:27 GMT
BBC One's adaptation of Malorie Blackman's Noughts and Crosses - trailer

The long-awaited TV adaptation of Malorie Blackman’s novel Noughts + Crosses premiered on BBC1 on Thursday night (5 March), and it has divided critics and viewers.

Noughts + Crosses, a young adult book published in 2001, imagines an alternate reality in which white people are the underclass and black people are the ruling elite.

The new series stars Masali Baduza as Sephy and Jack Rowan as Callum, two teenagers from either side of the racial divide who embark on a Romeo and Juliet-style romance.

Its race-reversal element has divided viewers and critics, with fans hailing it as “vital” television and nay-sayers accusing it of “anti-white racism”.

Some praised the drama for being “powerful” and “important”, with many pointing out its attention to detail in a scene where the white characters don’t have access to plasters that match their skin colour.

Others, however, branded Noughts + Crosses as “juvenile”, “dangerously divisive” and accused the show of “race-baiting”.

The Independent’s critic Fiona Sturges gave the adaptation three stars, applauding its concept and predicting it would “induce hernias in right-wing commentators”.

Noughts + Crosses was awarded four stars by The Guardian, whose writer Ellen E Jones said: "At a time when the absurdity of media 'debates' on race reveals this country’s general lack of understanding, a show that so starkly demonstrates structural racism is revolutionary."

Radio Times critic David Craig, meanwhile, deemed it an adaptation with "strong ideas but wobbly execution" in his three-star review.

It was given two stars by the Daily Mail, with Christopher Stevens saying: “There’s nothing uplifting or aspirational about this version. It’s full of recriminations, resentment, guilt and prejudice. How very 21st century.”

He added: “If this is meant to be a parable with the colours reversed, then it is a dishonest one, and a hypocritical one too – running the risk of stirring up the very prejudices it pretends to condemn."

The Telegraph's Anita Singh, in a four-star review, hailed the show as a "triking piece of television", adding: "For its ambition alone it deserves to be seen."

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