Unsaid Stories review – a beginner's guide to racial inequality

Jumi Akinfenwa
·3 min read

Inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement, Unsaid Stories (ITV) is a collection of four timely short films told from the perspective of black Britons, which are – according to its makers – “unique, fresh and engaging, about real people in completely real situations, confronting and exploring racism and prejudice”. With each episode just 15 minutes long, they offer a bite-sized take on issues such as racial profiling, colourism and unconscious bias. Each film is character-led – partially owing to filming restrictions brought about by Covid-19.

The first episode, Generational, written by Jerome Bucchan-Nelson, stars Nicholas Pinnock of Top Boy and Marcella as Oliver, and Yasmin Monet Prince, best known for her role in Amazon’s Hanna, as Justina. Against the backdrop of the pandemic, the pair play a father and daughter with opposing views of the Black Lives Matter protests. Opening with the strains of Black by rapper Dave – with lines like “Black is so much deeper than just African American” – the scene is set for a nuanced portrayal of race in the UK. Justina’s mother is a healthcare worker, emphasising the risks that black people have faced over the past few months during a pandemic where they have been four times as likely to die as their white counterparts, and seemingly feeding into Oliver’s reluctance to let his daughter join in with the protests.

At first it seems as though Oliver’s reservations also stem from the likelihood that Justina may find herself in trouble, and that demonstrations would be likely to lead to “vandalism and looting in the city”. It isn’t until later that we find out that Oliver lost a friend to racist violence when he was at university, with the police refusing to get involved with what they deemed a “petty squabble”. While it is a story that unfortunately rings true for far too many, the “happy ever after” ending feels simplistic. Pinnock’s monologue is sincere and bound to tug at heartstrings yet, as a black viewer who has seen similar scenarios before, onscreen and in reality, its predictability left me feeling cold.

While it is commendable that black writers have been given the space to share their stories, Generational doesn’t feel as though it was written with a black audience in mind, with nothing new or radical to add. Offering only a surface level exploration, in an often soapy style, it would arguably only truly strike a chord among those for whom conversations around racial politics are something of a novelty. This isn’t a story that is unsaid – rather it’s one that black Britons have seen and heard time and time again, and one that makes you question just how many times we have to rehash the same pain for there to be any genuine change.

It remains to be seen what the effects of the Black Lives Matter movement will be, but with racial inequality still rumbling on – from the BBC’s use of the N-word on daytime television by a white presenter to black Labour MP Dawn Butler being incorrectly stopped by police – it seems unlikely that films such as this will do much to change the public’s awareness of racial inequality. Besides, perhaps it would have been more impactful for writers to be allowed to branch out of the realm of the Black Lives Matter movement, to focus on the power of community and creativity, for example. After all, our lives also matter when we’re joyful and flourishing – not just when we’re angry, distressed or regurgitating our past traumas.

Episode two, broadcast on Tuesday night and starring Joe Cole and Adelayo Adedayo, is somewhat better, probing the idiosyncrasies of the black British experience in a bit more depth, covering interracial dating, gaslighting and class differences, and giving audiences a bit more to think about. Hopefully the two remaining films will use this opportunity to explore stories that are truly unsaid – rather than merely paying them lip service.