For noen, the series could be seen as destroying the last safe space for those nostalgic of a certain kind of past. Jeg, for en, welcome that opening, writes Olivette Otele
When I was invited to view the new Anne Boleyn series before it was aired on Kanal 5, I was of course delighted to see a new period drama whose lead actor is the beautiful and talented Jodie Turner-Smith. I was about to see a stunning dark-skinned woman portraying one of England’s famous queens in a British period drama. The ridiculous anxiety and excitement I felt was abnormal and yet palpable. As a historian of colonisation, I was interested in seeing how the question would be tackled in the series. I was acutely aware of the lack of interest period dramas have displayed in connecting colonial history with Tudor historie. I was also interested, blant annet, in finding out how early colonial racialisation would be depicted in Tudor court.
Beyond the admiration I have for Turner-Smith, I wanted to see how she would convey prejudice or early forms of racism in the series. The tone had to be right. As a black woman who has seen her share of prejudiced attitude, would she be able to take the audience with her when conveying what it feels like to be on the receiving end of racial prejudice? This was an opportunity that seldom presents itself for black women in films. The question of casting is indeed an important one when it comes to black entertainers and the way they are characterised or how they are rarely given the opportunity to shine. While racism remained important to understanding contemporary debates about our fascination for Tudor times, the series took me on a different journey.
Racism in the film industry, in particular how people of non-European descent have been depicted in Hollywood, has been the subject of debates for over a century. I 1915, the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People (NAACP) called for series of protests in several cities against the movie The Birth of a Nation. The group challenged Hollywood’s long and detrimental tradition or portraying African American stereotypes. I tillegg, the NAACP raised the fact that the film industry was denying African American actors the opportunity to access employment by using white actors in blackface.