Black Earth Rising is a new BBC Two international thriller about the prosecution of international war crimes and the West’s relationship with contemporary Africa written, directed and produced by BAFTA-winner Hugo Blick (The Honourable Woman, The Shadow Line). Hugo Blick introduces the drama.
Black Earth Rising: Kate Ashby (MICHAELA COEL) (Image Credit: BBC/Drama Republic/Des Willie)
What is Black Earth Rising about?
Black Earth Rising is about Kate Ashby (played by Michaela Coel). Through the specific prism of this woman’s fictional journey towards a deeply personal reconciliation with her past, we explore some of the legal, political and historical tensions that exist between the West and Africa in their mutual pursuit of international war criminals.
Watch the trailer for Black Earth Rising
What was the inspiration for creating the series?
Where I’ve arrived isn’t the destination I expected. Some years back I looked into the Nuremberg trials as part of background research on The Honourable Woman. I consequently became interested in exploring how we pursue International War Criminals today.
I began with the International Criminal Court, and was surprised to discover, at the time of my research, that most if not all formal indictments were against Africans – black Africans. This then drew me to the Congo. Here not only is the ICC pursuing persecutors of the Rwandan Genocide but I was further puzzled to find that it is also pursuing individuals who had helped bring the genocide to an end. Both sides were wanted by the ICC for alleged atrocities committed in the Democratic Republic of Congo after the genocide in the mid-2000s. I wanted to understand why apparent villains and heroes are being pursued. And the more I looked, the further I had to go.
Black Earth Rising: Michael Ennis (JOHN GOODMAN) (Image Credit: BBC/Drama Republic/Des Willie)
What further research did you do once you came up with the idea before you started writing Black Earth Rising?
I travelled extensively through the African regions in which the story is set and equally through the corridors of legal power in London, Paris and The Hague.
Did you always have Michaela Coel in mind for the part of Kate Ashby?
Not while I was writing but immediately after completion I happened to see her being interviewed and said to my wife, “That’s Kate Ashby.” And I was right, she is!
And John Goodman as Michael Ennis?
John brought such intelligence and humour to Michael Ennis that I simply couldn’t imagine anyone else in the role
Watch a clip from Black Earth Rising
You are writer, director, producer and also act in Black Earth Rising. Which of these roles do you find the most challenging? And the most rewarding?
Each one is extremely demanding but the role of director and its complex and emotional demands pales when compared to staring at a blank page in the knowledge you’re going to have to fill out five hundred of them before anything else can happen. I've always felt acting was about quietening your mind, which given everything else that surrounds you on a film set came as a blessed relief.