Dreaming Whilst Black Review 2023 Tv Show Series Cast Crew Online
Television can have a tendency towards being formulaic, and in some respects, that is part of its appeal. You sit down on a Sunday night to a big BBC period drama and know, roughly, the notes that it is going to hit. But occasionally a show like Dreaming Whilst Black comes along and quietly rips up the formula, finding a new path that feels fresh, exciting and very much its own.
The series, co-created by and starring Adjani Salmon, emerges from the foundations of first a web series and then a Bafta-winning pilot. Salmon is Kwabena, an aspiring film-maker from a Jamaican family who is working in recruitment while dreaming of one day making it as a writer and director. Over six episodes, he navigates his way through various opportunities, funding schemes and mentoring programmes, while also trying to earn a living and pay rent.
I find that the idea of art about art rarely appeals. Films about making films, or TV about making TV, or even songs about how hard it is to be a musician on the road etc can lack imaginative reach. But Dreaming Whilst Black makes it work, cleverly and casually. Kwabena is an outsider, because he is Black and also not wealthy. In trying to break into an industry stuffed with rich, white, middle-to-upper class people – a pretty accurate depiction of the TV world, in my experience – he has to work out what to sacrifice and what compromises to make. It’s hard to drop everything for a sudden meeting when you have a day job to go to, for example, and it’s hard to pay the rent when you don’t go to your day job because you dropped everything for a sudden meeting.
There are more philosophical questions, about what it means to “sell out”, both as an individual and as part of a family and community. What is fair game for storytelling, and how much should this be tailored to an audience that might not appreciate it in its intended form? If this makes it sound dry, it’s far more imaginative than that and funnier, and it is never self-indulgent. Kwabena is prone to daydreaming, and some scenes turn out to be figments of his imagination. It’s not always clear which moments are real and which are things Kwabena wishes he had said or done, and this subtly wobbles the floor beneath it. There are surreal touches – a talking baby, a brief animated public information film, conversations between alter egos – which make it lively. The production company A24, behind Uncut Gems, Everything Everywhere All At Once and Midsommar, is on board as a partner, which makes complete sense when you see it.
As a protagonist, Kwabena can be frustrating, deliberately so. His daydreams are of a more assertive man for whom things go well; things rarely work out for him in his ordinary life, right down to a bird doing its business on his lucky shirt. But it digs deep into his inner conflict, and towards the end of the series, places him in an intriguing moral bind: what will it cost him to play the game? The rest of the cast is strong and the supporting characters just as fully realised, particularly his best friend, Amy, (Dani Moseley), recently back from working in Lagos and up against the horrors of a UK production company who treat her as “the only black in the village”, only asking her opinion as a “person of colour” and promoting less experienced colleagues above her. Babirye Bukilwa is Kwabena’s love interest, Vanessa, which adds a neat layer of romance to a series in which a romantic film is one of Kwabena’s pitches, written off as not commercial enough.
Dreaming Whilst Black is also very funny, though its humour is of the more excruciating variety. It might contain one of the most painful depictions of karaoke yet seen on screen. There is a pleasing stream of comedy cameos, from Jessica Hynes to Isy Suttie to Peter Serafinowicz. The first episode is the most straightforward, as it sets everything up, but the show gets more inventive and more imaginative as it goes along. While it is about Kwabena following his dreams to become a film-maker, it’s about much more. It deals with family, ambition, money, being a good father, creativity, inspiration, love, class, race and identity. In a later episode, Kwabena daydreams a version of himself ranting about the kind of films that get made, the formulaic ones, the ones in which Britain defeats the Nazis over and over again. What Dreaming Whilst Black has done is write its own formula. I hope there’s another series, and soon.