Top Of The Blocks Or Top Flop?

It’s all anyone can talk about this week; Top Boy, the latest urban saga from channel 4. I’m unable to give you a personal review because I have decided not to watch it, mostly because I suspected it would be crammed full of clichés and stereotypes, and feedback on all my portals of social networking have confirmed my fears. Nevertheless I have to commend channel 4 for sparking a discussion about the events that unfolded in the four-part drama, though I’m sure not even they expected the levels of backlash.

My feeds have been full of people complaining about the negative portrayals of being young, being black and being from an unprivileged background, the consensus being that the storyline highlights a life that is alien to most people who are young, black and unprivileged. The emphasis has been put on the behaviour of a minority of an already minority sector in society, but it is good drama, good entertainment and surely, a ratings winner. Since I’ve made my stand to not watch it (I’m aware I’m probably the only person in London to do so) I have been reading reviews about the series. There are one’s like this which take the drama to be reflective of reality, and then two linked reviews, the first by author and Hackney resident Emeka Egbuonu, who hosted a showing of Top Boy in local youth club, The Crib. His piece for the Huff Post was a personal account of the screening, which was set up for a review for the Observer, both pieces acknowledge the good and bad aspects of the show and most importantly, the views expressed are those of the young people.

In the end it is the youth, who are supposedly the most influenced by these sorts of things on TV, whose opinion matters, and even they thought it was a bit shy of the mark. Their responses were mixed and most of the joy came from seeing and hearing familiar characters, actors and situations, and in a way they are lucky they have anything familiar on TV – when I was growing up there wasn’t any representation, good or bad, of where I was coming from. I don’t worry about what the inner city youths will make of Top Boy though, as one young reviewer put it in the Huff Post article, “We all know there are ignorant people in society so if someone is ready to pass judgement on a particular group based on a TV drama then it is them I feel sorry for”. What I worry about is what those people who have never been to London or may never visit London will think.

As much as it is just a bit of TV, it may be the only reference for some people of what life is really like in places like Hackney, and then the stereotypes compound and gather steam. There will always be stereotypes and prejudice though, my biggest question of all, and the reason I’ve refused to watch the show is this; Why are TV channels so reluctant to air programming that shows the positivity in ethnic-working-class backgrounds? Lets all think about that one over the weekend.

Did you enjoy Top Boy? Do you think the plot was realistic? Would you like to see TV shows about black people that are less negative? Let us know in the comments!


Monica Rahman