In 1999, Malorie Blackman started the groundbreaking young adult series Noughts & Crosses, which would soon take over the world.
Blackman’s dystopian fantasy, a take on Romeo and Juliet, flipped racism on its head, casting white people as an oppressed underclass – the Noughts – and Black people as the ruling 1% class – the Crosses.
The book – which was included in the BBC’s list of the 100 most influential novels of all time would go on to sell over 1.7 million copies worldwide.
“Against a background of prejudice, distrust, and powerful rebellion mounting on the streets, a passionate romance builds between Sephy and Callum which will lead them both into terrible danger.”
Twenty-one years later, the first novel was adapted for television for the first time for the BBC and is now coming to NBC’s Peacock streaming service for American consumption.
In the Noughts & Crosses TV series, the Crosses control the government and use the legal and economic system to oppress the Noughts. In the backdrop of racism, love sets its sights on two people from the opposite race.
However, the show is more than forbidden love but an exploration of racism, classism, and the gaping divides in a society blind to its own issues.
Blackman named the series as such because: “It’s a game that nobody plays after childhood because nobody ever wins.”
The Koalition spoke to Masali Baduza (who plays Sephy Hadley), a Cross, and Jack Rowan (who plays Callum McGregor), a Nought. Through their relationship, Sephy begins to realize the society she lives in is hell for those who don’t look like her. Together the characters fight to end the institutionalized racism in Albion.
“It’s a really humbling experience. I’ve grown up in London, England, I’ve constantly been surrounded by culture my whole life. So I’ve never really experienced it in front of my eyes. On top of that, I’m also a white male from London, so I’ve never actually been put in a situation before where I am the other. Where I am the odd one out,” said Rowan when asked about how Nought + Crosses made him aware of his privilege as a white male.
“There was a big experience when we started filming where I did army training and I was the only nought cadet, it was me and a load of South African boys and we’re there doing African war chants and I’m like ‘what an experience.’ Even to look around and feel like the odd one out. People would hear my accent and look at my skin tone, and they would wonder ‘who I am and why I am I here?'” Rowan said.
“It was that natural [realization], I can’t change what’s [my skin tone] but as soon as you ask me a question or as soon as we chat, we’re going to get on, that’s a given. As the days went on, these boys started chatting to me and we’d have a nice dialogue. That’s what it was about: pure love. I had to check my privilege. It was very humbling and it’s an experience I’ll take forward. It’s an experience I didn’t have before doing this project. I’m so incredibly grateful.” Rowan continued.
For Baduza, playing the daughter of a Cross politician who lives a life of privilege, had a different experience as an African on the show.
“I’ve lived my whole life as a black woman, so I’ve experienced racism firsthand and all the different levels it comes in. For me, stepping onto set every day was crazy. I couldn’t believe this was a show that we were making and that we’re here in society having the show being made right now. It was a very ‘pinch me’ moment to be like ‘oh, we’re imagining a world where Africans were not oppressed and where Africans were not taken advantage of. That was quite a moment for me every day on set,” Baduza said.
Already a hit in the UK where season 1 already aired, Noughts + Crosses had a profound impact on its viewers.
“People I’ve spoken to who have watched the show say ‘it’s such a good show’ but they have to remind themselves this is not the world that we live in today. The whole point of the show was to show how people are cheated through oppression and through the switching of the races. I think this show is going to be quite powerful for Black people to see themselves in this light of excellence and slices of ‘you are wonderful’ which we already are,” Baduza continued.
“For white people to watch [Noughts + Crosses] and actually relate because let’s say a white person would watch a show about racism, they struggle to connect whereas in this show they can go ‘oh, this person looks like me and it’s happening to them,'” Rowan said.
Noughts + Crosses is available now on the Peacock streaming service.
For our full interview check out our video above.