Since the terror attacks in Paris two weeks ago, much has been written about what we should let children watch on television, and how much exposure to the news is advisable for young kids. Those are questions really only answerable by individual parents, but if I could give one piece of telly-watching advice for the weekend it would be this: if little ones are in front of the box (or tablet or smartphone), look up CBeebies and CBBC’s new show, Jamillah and Aladdin, airing this Sunday and aimed at four to 10-year-olds.
As the name suggests, it’s based on the classic Arabian Nights’ tale. But unlike the Disney version, this one is a live-action drama series and has been given a modern-day twist with some magic and comedy in the mix. Its protagonist is Jamillah (Blossom Campbell) a young Londoner living with her extended family who finds a magic lamp in the attic one rainy day and unwittingly becomes a hapless genie’s new master. Her first wish is to go on an adventure, so genie (Leroy Osei Bonsu), transports them to ancient Baghdad where they meet Aladdin (Wilson Radjou-Pujalte, soon to be on our screens as the Artful Dodger in Dickensian) and the trio get up to lots of mischief together.
It’s perfect timing, I think. When we want to show children that other countries and cultures can be celebrated and enjoyed – and are not just places of bombs and fear. The cast looks like the Britain we recognise – the three lead rolls are played by black actors – and the characters are inquisitive. Genie translates Jamillah’s request for “an adventure” into a trip to the Middle East. She is transfixed in the bazaar by the snake charmers the belly dancers and the street vendors. Maybe some of the children watching will recognise the name Baghdad from the news and come to think about this city and others like it in a different light. And in Jamillah and Aladdin’s friendship they might see that while not all children look, talk or have the same beliefs as us, we can still all be mates and equals not foes. Jamillah is a feisty protagonist, too. She is the kind of girl to admire: she's bold, adventurous and often calls the shots and problem solves to get out of her and Aladdin out of sticky situations.
Of course, it’s just a TV programme and we shouldn’t over-blow its importance, But, if we continue with positive, diverse programming, then it can play a role in shaping the next generation’s belief systems, values and morals.In an interview, 11-year-old Blossom was asked what her three wishes would be, given the chance. Her first? “Equality in the world.” Nice.
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