CBBC’s Horrible Histories television series has proven a childhood phenomenon for many a telly obsessed Brit – so much so that many would unabashedly admit that they still hold a tender spot for the hilarious, vibrant, educational series well into their adult years. What is particularly heartening about the series recently then is how they have created a special dedicated to celebrating Black History Month, featuring professional dancer Oti Mabuse (known for being featured on Strictly Come Dancing) as she guides her viewers through a selection of sketches focusing on infamous Black figures throughout history. The feature’s peppered with the most famous faces to even a couple that are perhaps not as renowned to audiences, and so it is incredibly encouraging to see such a beloved series put more emphasis on the details of Black History alongside the more overbaked instances of curricular familiarity.
The special opens with a particularly jazzy number featuring Rosa Parks and her story of how she knocked with the law due to having ‘sat on the bus,’ fully embellishing not only in this simple act that Parks is most renowned for but the domino effect of resistance and results that followed thereafter. The next sketch then follows the actions of Mary Bowser, acting as a spy under the nose of Jefferson Davis in 1863, and was particularly amusing in light of the caricature made out of the sexist characters of Davis and his advisors despite Mary’s obvious pilfering of classified papers. The crudeness of the Mary Seacole sketch proves an additional hoot given her blasé nature in the face of dysentery and diarrhea; happily spooning out ‘poo-medicine’ to her horrified ‘respectable’ British guests. Boxer Bill Richmond and guitarist Jimmy Hendrix also make an appearance, but it is the ‘father of Civil Rights movement’ Martin Luther King who undoubtedly steals the show his personalised rendition of David Bowie’s Heroes. This actually proves a rather emotive instance as the song focuses on other names who were involved in the movement alongside Martin, with clips of news footage heightening the encouraging nature of the movement, all of which allows the sketch to seem all the more inspiring for promoting the masses that were involved in making such a universal ‘dream come true.’
”…the majority of the screen time being dominated by the contributions of recognisable white actors as opposed to their black cast mates…”
Despite the fun-filled action of the Black History month special, there are still some notable reservations to be had about the questionable effort, or lack thereof, that was put into the piece. Indeed, it is slightly disheartening to see that fact that such an important event for so many people could only be celebrated in the space of a twelve minute video; the majority of the screen time being dominated by the contributions of recognisable white actors as opposed to their black castmates, their voices being the more prominent instead of the figures whom the sketches are meant to be about. Horrible Histories has been renowned for pushing the boundaries of discomfort and tip-toeing round important historical truths that would rarely crop up in a British schoolroom, so it was admittedly disappointing that more effort wasn’t dedicated towards an episode for Black History Month. It rather seems to prove that despite how far the fight for equality has come since the days of Martin Luther King, we still stand at a crossroads in terms of where true and equality and representation is concerned. The special rather reminds us that people of colour still have a long way to push before our history can wholly inspire those of the next generation, the stories and experiences of black people still being somewhat whitewashed despite claims of inclusion and social progression.
Photo Credit: BBC