From radical Black theatre production to television adaptation
Black Feet in the Snow (BBC, 1974)
in Screen plays
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The 1972 stage play Black Feet in the Snow was adapted for BBC2’s Open Door community strand in 1974. Written by Guyanese poet and playwright Jamal Ali, it featured a cast of Brixton-based, non-professional Black actors drawn from Ali’s theatre group RAPP (Radical Alliance of Poets and Players). Over sixteen scenes which meld acting, poetry, music and dance, the play tells the story of Jahn-Jahn, a polite Guyanese ‘country boy’ whose impression of Brixton as a ‘crazy violent ghetto’ spurs his ‘re-birth’ as radical firebrand who leads his community in a riot. As such, the play was politically radical in its championing of the nascent British Black Power movement, its visceral depiction of racial discrimination and its critique of Britain’s colonial past. However, the play’s radicalism extended to its form—an innovative mix of Caribbean orature and Brechtian elements.

This chapter draws on interviews with Ali and material from the BBC Written Archives Centre to explore the intersection between radical Black theatre and television drama. It is suggested that the creative collaboration between Ali and BBC director Brian Skilton, allied to the unique ‘discursive space’ of Open Door, allowed for a television adaptation that further enhanced the radical intention and diasporic hybridity of the stage play. Indeed, Black Feet in the Snow’s non-naturalistic approach, both aesthetically and formally, signified an important divergence from documentary realism—the then-dominant mode of Black expression in 1970s television drama. More broadly, the chapter argues for the importance of identifying television plays that reside in ‘alternative’ strands in order to gain a holistic understanding of Black creative expression both in and beyond the decade.

Screen plays

Theatre plays on British television

Editors: Amanda Wrigley and John Wyver

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