Black Javert

David Oyelowo as Inspector Javert

Over the past six weeks the BBC has been showing their latest adaptation of Les Miserables (UK).

It seemed from the start that what a lot of people concerned themselves with was the colour of Inspector Javert’s skin – he was portrayed by David Oyelowo – and whether a black actor should be representing a copper in 19th century France.

Let’s not call anyone racist, as many folk are probably genuinely puzzled by his inclusion into this, perceived, #whiteworld. As a white person myself, I cannot help the world I grew up in – white family, white friends, white neighbourhood. I would guess that over 90% of children in my schools were white, but in my Primary school class there was one girl of Chinese parentage and one boy who was Black British. But overall it was a very white world.

This was not my choice. Children do not choose where they grow up. We are the result of our culture and upbringing. So if the people on social media question David Oyelowo’s casting, then let’s accept it as simply that – questioning.

It’s the naysayers who can make things uncomfortable for the rest of us white folk. “No!” they say, “No way could a black guy become a police officer in that period.”

One of the things Victor Hugo hi-lights in his story, is the way people are born into a class system and, mostly, die in that class they were born to. However, some rise above it. Jean Valjean, a convict, rises at one point to become Mayor of a small town. Inspector Javert was born in a prison to a Fortune-Teller mother, his father is also a prisoner. His beginnings suggest that he may never rise to the top of the class system, but he becomes a law enforcer, and this world has it’s own hierarchy. For one man, change is the force that makes him a better man, for the other it is what breaks him.

Most people will have heard of Alexandre Dumas; author of The Count of Monte Cristo and The Three Musketeers. A similar thing happened when his books were made into films and TV shows – at least in the UK – white actors all. And yet, Dumas was himself a Person of Colour. Are we to believe that he only wrote white characters?

Alexandre Dumas

And what about that claim that black people could not rise to prominence?

Dumas’ own father, became a military General and served with distinction. In 1879, Severiano de Heredia became president of the municipal council of Paris – he was bi-racial. Blaise Diagne was a SenegaleseFrench political leader and the Mayor of Dakar. He was the first black African to hold a position in French government in early 20th century (in 1899 he also became a Freemason!) There are other examples.

In the UK, Norwell Roberts was the first black officer in the Metropolitan Police force – 1967. However, recent research has revealed that actually, one of our first (recorded) black officers was John Kent, who served from 1837 in Carlisle. The point is this –

Yes, a black person could have become a police officer in 19th century France!

We must also remember that this production – Les Miserables by the BBC, is entertainment. And the actors are just that, actors. They aren’t really those things they portray, so some level of flexibility of mind is not a great ask. For my part, I thought Oyelowo portrayed Javert wonderfully. Rigid with indignation, self-satisfaction, obsession and possibly shame, he cannot, he realises, continue after experiencing the self-sacrifice of Jean Valjean. That final moment we see as he determines to commit suicide, the agony of his inability to commit himself to the act – then the clarity of understanding that his life has been wasted – he could have been a better man – and finally truth descends, no more tears, he is ready to die.

Also, in the spirit of Victor Hugo and his representations of the struggles of humanity – might we not come to be less poor of mind and spirit ourselves; as well as physicality and station in life, if we could just be more accepting and open-minded about each other – regardless of skin colour? If we do not open ourselves up to possibilities and change, if we retain and do not question what we learnt in our childhoods, then might we all just be Javerts?

*Three images of David Oyelowo from BBC iPlayer – https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer

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What’s Gone Wrong With Doctor Who?

People have been seriously divided by the new Doctor Who series; fans and critics alike.

Regular and long-term viewers will all be aware of the flurry of discussions that went on preceding the revelation that a female would play the titular character – it’s actually the same with each new incarnation –Morgan Jeffrey did a great piece for Digital Spy, last month, about what critics had said over the years about each new Doc; not all complimentary.

But the Twitterverse has been all a-Twitter with things like –

There’s delight and disappointment in equal measure. And thankfully, little of it has to do with having a female lead in the role that has for 55 years had a male lead.

Finally the show took the great leap and Jodie Whittaker took up the mantel. And she’s pretty good, as far as I’m concerned. Her Doctor has passion, energy, a curiosity for the universe, delights in the company of others and gets smarter by the episode; as her Doctor comes to grips with previous incarnations information pile-up. Though I wish she was less ‘gushy’.

My issue is with the writing.

Going back to Seasons 1 through to 4, the writing is strong, the stories gripping and the acting compelling. This block of shows had Russell T. Davies and Steven Moffat as the primary writers, with Davies writing 6 out of the 12 episodes for Season 4.

Season 5 saw the departure of Davies and the arrival of a new Doctor, in the form of Matt Smith – I hated this Doctor from the start. He was childish, impulsive to the point of idiocy, and seemed purposefully designed to appeal to little kids. Of course, some will cry, it’s a kids show!

Although created as a show for children – the audience demographics reveal something else. One brief student research I was party to, suggested the largest group that watches Doctor Who is – women aged 30 to 50-something with an academic background. Others show it males in their 30s working in IT. And then others that it has a target audience of 7 to 14 year olds. Demographics is not the same as target audience – one is the result of who actually watches, the other is who the producers have targeted – obviously with demographic research taken into consideration – the two don’t always match up.

Jump to Season 10,and there were nine writers. I felt that Peter Capaldi could have  been as excellent a Doctor as David Tennant, but for the writing. The tenure of David Tennant as the Doc seemed to be a convergence of all the best things at once – great acting, great lead, newly resurrected series but not first Doctor into the fray, excellent writing team; not too small, not to big – this for me was, to put it in astronomical terms, the Goldilocks phenomenon – not too adult, not too childlike – just right.

The Girl in the Fireplace S2: E4

In this new Season 11, we are only 9 episodes in, and already there have been 6 writers. And I wonder if the issue with this season has been the exact opposite of the David Tennant Goldilocks effect – too many writers, new non-male lead, writing to appeal to too many ages, too many companions!

Too many companions spoil the plot

I don’t know what I expected with a new writer/show-runner; ChrisChibnall. I didn’t feel like the Doctor should need to be a female just to be ‘politically correct’; I have no issue with male leads. But there is something missing, the spark – or darkness –that made Doctor Who so watchable. I feel as though I am sticking with it through some false sense of loyalty built from years of viewing ,and a kind of nostalgia. I want it to be good, I really do,because there have been times when the episodes have been fantastic. But it simply isn’t.

Sometimes it feels like the writers are trying to be clever just for the sake of it. Too many twists and connecting threads, and ‘explanations’ etc, etc, do not a good story make. It’s as though someone has gone – ‘here’s the story, now what if….’ and another person has gone…..’and what if we just add….’

A couple of the episodes have been good, as stand-alones. The Rosa Parks story was beautifully poignant – sometimes you have to watch people fall and not step in. And having political messages isn’t the issue – it’s the writing.

I believe a part of the issue is having three companions. Why are there three? I cannot fathom the need. For starters, there is never enough dialogue to go around and sometimes I watch the non-speaking characters and they’re just standing there, doing nothing! Edgar Wright would never let that happen! Also, if I were to get rid of one, or two of the three, I’m not sure which I’d choose. I think they’re all equally wooden. Some of the voice acting has been like listening to an amateur read lines.

What’s needed is:- Tight-knit writing team. Character development. Simple stories just well written. There must be psychological realism, it doesn’t matter how bizarre, let it make sense.

Will I be sticking with it?

I can’t honestly say I will stop watching – I live in hope. I wonder if they could invite Russell T. Davies to write an episode or two?!

Or, Maybe I should write something myself…hmm…

https://graphicpolicy.com/2013/09/16/facebook-fandom-spotlight-doctor-who-fans-50-women/

https://georgeakcm.wordpress.com/2016/10/17/doctor-who-target-audience/

http://bethkirkbyunit1media.blogspot.com/2014/02/audiance-demographics-and-profile-of.html