Top Boy: Cultural Verisimilitude and the Allure of Black Criminality for UK Public Service Broadcasting Drama
In this new paper, Sarita Malik and Clive James Nwonka seek to understand the fascination of the black urban crime genre for programme-makers, broadcasters and audiences in the contemporary British mediascape.
In the early 2000s, a new form of multicultural television drama began to emerge in the UK, exploring contemporary gang life within Britain’s black communities. A notable example of this ‘black urban crime’ genre is Top Boy, screened by the UK’s leading multicultural public service broadcaster, Channel 4, in 2011 and 2013. This article produces an analysis, drawing on sociological and media studies perspectives, and through historicisation and contextualisation, that seeks to understand the fascination of the black urban crime genre for programme-makers, broadcasters and audiences in the contemporary British mediascape. It locates Top Boy at the intersection of complex media relations and modes of production that are themselves intertwined with political, legislative and cultural agendas tied to post-multiculturalist and neoliberal tendencies within public service broadcasting frameworks. The article suggests that black urban crime narratives do not advance understandings of the organisational structure of urban gangs or drug-related crime that are so central to these texts, nor do they offer a progressive contribution to contemporary debates or the representation of black criminality.