Top Boy after George Floyd 'will be eye-opening' for some

By Megan Lawton
Newsbeat reporter

Image source, Chris Harris/Netflix
Image caption,
Ashley Walters, who plays Dushane, says Top Boy shows "what people go through"

Since the last season of Top Boy aired on Netflix in 2019, the conversation about race in Britain has changed.

The popular show is returning to the streaming channel in the wake of the death of George Floyd and the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement.

But police brutality and racism are not new subject matter for Top Boy, which is executively produced by Drake.

The programme focuses on the realities of UK gang culture, drug dealing and the divide between rich and poor.

Actor Ashley Walters, who plays Dushane, says they have been covering issues like this since the start but some viewers might find this season more confronting because of recent events.

Image source, Chris Harris
Image caption,
Ashley says the cast have long discussions about scenes to ensure they're authentic

"Personally, I've always known that police can be heavy handed," he tells Radio 1 Newsbeat.

"That was before George Floyd, but to people that don't understand the extent of how bad it can be sometimes, it's going to be eye-opening for them, but we don't shy away from that."

"It's what we're about. We're not doing things for glorification value or whatever. It's what people go through."

The cast of this year's show is as strong as previous series. Kano, Michael Ward, and Little Simz are all returning, as are Jasmine Jobson and Saffron Hocking who play sisters Jaq and Lauryn.

Saffron agrees that the show was tackling a lot of these themes on race long before the death of George Floyd in police custody.

"The Black Lives Matter protests opened everyone's eyes," she says. "But I think that what Top Boy already did before BLM was show black people on TV, and it was exposing to show black people on TV, and we continue to do that."

Image source, Top Boy, Netflix
Image caption,
"I know grandparents that enjoy watching Top Boy, it's for everyone," says Saffron

In the past, the show has been criticised for reinforcing stereotypes about black men, but to those critics Ashley says Top Boy represents a "specific slice of life", not the whole Black British experience.

"I think there's room for loads of different shows to represent different things," he says.

"Our responsibility is to represent the stories of the people we're telling in the right way."

'This season is educational'

Season four covers themes like homophobia, domestic abuse and deportation. That's something Ashley says is important.

"We're tackling issues and problems that are prominent in our society. We want to give our audience a place to debate."

Saffron echoes this and says this series is educational.

She explains: "My character (Lauryn) is a victim of coercive control, gaslighting and stalking. And I really hope, because of the reach of Top Boy, it can go to a wide audience.

"Hopefully men watching Lauryn can perhaps take a look at themselves and their own behaviour and think 'that ain't right'."

The pressure to make storylines authentic is something actor Jasmine Jobson is aware of.

"We're constantly under pressure to make sure we're not glamorising things, because it's very, very easy to glamorise this lifestyle and make people feel it's exciting when really it's scary and dangerous."

Image source, Chris Harris
Image caption,
Jasmine, who plays Jaq, says the girls are taking over this season

The year of the Top Girl?

In this series, women are front and centre and that's largely led by Jasmine's character Jaq. She says it's empowering to see women can be top in whatever field they choose.

"I only take on roles where I can change perceptions," she adds. "I want women to feel that no matter what industry you're working in, you can be at the top of your game."

Ashley agrees "the top girls come out this season", but with a smile on his face, adds, "the show is always Top Boy".

Top Boy streams on Netflix from 18 March.

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