Malorie Blackman’s groundbreaking young adult series Noughts & Crosses, is a dystopian fantasy take on Romeo and Juliet, which flips 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 topped BBC’s list of the 100 most influential novels of all time would go on to sell over 1.7 million copies worldwide.
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 explores racism, classism, and the gaping divides in a society blind to its own issues.
The Koalition spoke to Helen Baxendale and Bonnie Mbuli who play Meggie McGregor and Jasmine Hadley, respectlively; parents to Sephy Haldey (played by Masali Baduza), a Cross and Callum McGregor (played by Jack Rowan), a Nought.
Our interview with Helen Baxendale and Bonnie Mbuli tackles reverse racism, the power of love and more.
“I read the books, I got a sense of who Jasmine was from the books. For me what was really interesting was because Jasmine drinks a lot and she’s physically quite an oppressed character but her social standing, her family, her fame and their money gives her the ability to throw that off in a very artificial way,” Mbuli said.
“I really just worked a lot with Jasmine from a physical perspective and just tried to sit in that space of ‘What does a privilege person move like? How do they walk into a room? How do they dismiss people very subtly and even obviously?’ And those things were very interesting to look at, whereas in my normal life they would annoy me, I suddenly had to look at them with interest and with peculiarity and say ‘Oh, this is an interesting thing. Why do people do that?’ It was quite an interesting space to be in. I love playing Jasmine by the way. She’s the only character I’d ever want to play on Noughts + Crosses,” Mbuli continued.
For Baxendale, it was a different experience when it came to tackling Maggie, a woman dealing with oppression and racism.
“I was worried about playing Maggie after my initial elation because it’s an inverted society and actually sort of what you’re playing is the Black Experience. I thought ‘Well God, who am I to know how on Earth to play that?’ And so I had to think ‘Well actually, a couple of generations ago my family did work in a big house for some well-to-do people in Northern England.’ I made myself feel better by thinking [Noughts + Crosses] is also about class. I tried to come at it that way because I didn’t feel comfortable really thinking of it any other way. The initial idea about of really being an underclass is not so dissimilar for British people a couple of generations ago. Certainly there’s an underclass now even in Britain, black and white [people],” Baxendale said.
“Also what I think is so great about the story, it’s a love story about two young people and it’s inclusive, it’s not exclusive of anybody. It bring everybody in and goes, ‘Look at the situation we’re in. It’s just insane.’ It’s a product of hundreds of years of history and a product of a bad system we just need to change and it’s not preachy. It just really makes you open your eyes. It’s a very clever way of doing it,” Baxendale continued.
For more about Noughts + Crosses, check out our full interview above. We also conducted an interview with stars Jack Rowan and Masali Baduza, who play Sephy and Callum.
Noughts + Crosses is streaming now on Peacock.