Controversial black gang drama airs tonight

pic: Channel 4

Top Boy, the four-part Channel 4 series that has stirred controversy surrounding its representation of black gang culture in Hackney, starts tonight at 10pm.

Written by Irish novelist and screenwriter living in Hackney, Ronan Bennett, the series depicts drug crime and gang culture in an East London estate.

Hackney council banned the series from being filmed at an estate in the borough and the Mayor of Hackney, Jules Pipe, criticised the show for spreading negative stereotypes of black people.

Pipe told the Independent: “Estates aren’t film sets – they are people’s homes. Hackney’s film office considers whether the portrayal would have a detrimental effect on the reputation of the area. In this case, it was not fair on residents having their neighbourhood stigmatised on national television as riddled with drugs and gangs.”

The show was also  criticised by Ligali, an organisation that campaigns against the misrepresentation of black people.

pic: Channel 4

Toyin Agbetu, a representative of the organisation said: “There’s a lack of imagination. You don’t have to always portray the African community as drug-dealing, gun-toting criminals. This isn’t the time to be going backwards and focusing on these stereotypes.”

Bennett, who has lived in Hackney for 25 years and spent two years doing research by interviewing gang members in east London, responded: “I was intrigued. Just a hundred metres from where I live you could be sitting drinking a latté in a café and just yards away youths could be talking about dealing drugs. The idea of two different worlds coexisting without either understanding the other, I thought, was something I should write about.”

The Observer set up a preview of the series at the Crib, a local drop-in space for young people in Hackney to receive feedback before the show airs tonight.

pic: Channel 4

Twenty-five year-old Emeka Egbuonu, a youth worker at the Crib said: “There’s a lot of playing into stereotypes. It’s a drama not a documentary, so it’s going to happen but I don’t like the glorification of the gangs, that worries me.”

Tune in to our live Twitter blog tonight as the show airs on Channel 4. Get involved in the discussion by submitting your opinions in the comment box below.

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