British African Characters in UK Media
Updated: Nov 5, 2020
The British minority population makes up just over 10% of the UK's overall population. with around 7-9% being of Pan-Asian origin. 5% being South Asian specifically (East Asians, South East Asians, West Asians and Central Asians make up a smaller proportion) and 3% of the total UK population being Black (with over 50% of the British Black community living in London). What is interesting is that whilst the black community of the UK is almost equally made up of two groups. The representation in British Film and TV is a bit one sided. The two main ethnic groups among the British Black community are the Black Caribbeans and Black Africans with a ratio of roughly 11:18 (Meaning in the UK for every 11 British Afro-Caribbean individuals there is 18 British Africans individuals). Despite these close numbers. It is incredibly difficult to find notably British African characters in British TV (even less in films) as most Black character are seemingly portrayed as Caribbean or just Black with English names. We decided to look into how British people of African backgrounds (North African and Sub-Saharan African backgrounds) are portrayed in British media.
Anyhow here's a few British African characters we can think of in British Films and TV.
Malawi handyman Ndale Kayuni from Waterloo Road (portrayed by British Jamaican Ritchie Campbell). Ndale appeared in series 8 of Waterloo Road as a Malawi site manager for the school. He first is introduced as a friend of Teacher Audry McFall (portrayed by Georgie Glan) who she met on holiday during the summer. While portrayed as kind and well meaning to all, Ndale's visa had expired and tried to marry Audry to stay into the UK pretending to be in love with her. The plan almost works if it were not for the fact Ndale was mutually attracted to Sonya Donnegan (portrayed by Victoria Bush) the school secretary who he ends up having an affair with but then realises he can't be with her if he is engaged to Audry. Deciding to go through with the wedding, Sonya grasses Ndale to immigration as she was not OK with him using Audry as a tool to stay in the UK. Ndale leaves when immigration takes him away to deport him back to Malawi.
Congolese student Lula Tsibi in Waterloo Road. (Portrayed by Congolese born British actress Marlene Madenge), This is a case of the actresses life influences the character. Marlene Madenge was born in Congo but due to a outbreak of civil war in the region, Marlene has immigrated to Scotland with her family to escape. This was incorporated into the her character Lula Tsibi who is a Congolese student at Waterloo Road first appearing in series 8. She initially sparks attention when she tells fellow religious pupil Tariq Siddiqui (portrayed by Naveed Choudhry) that his paraplegia (caused by a car accident) was a punishment from God. Leading her to get into a fight with bully Rhiannon Salt (Victoria Bush). It was revealed that Lula's father was deported to Congo after she called the ambulance to save him from a heart attack, but due to the conditions in Congo, her Uncle Lionel (portrayed by Cornell John) believes her father to have been murdered in Congo and despises Lula. Blaming Lula for his brother's death and intends to have his niece killed by exorcising the demons out of her (yeah waterloo road went pretty extreme with this character's story-line). She is saved when Tom Clarkeson informs her mother Cecile Tsibi (portrayed by Sarah Niles) of Lionel's plan. Cecile arrives to disowns Lionel from the household and starts to actively take care of Lula more. Lula then on becomes a well acquainted intelligent student, apologises to Tariq and Rhiannon but her story ends in series 9 where it is revealed Lula's student visa will expire and she get promptly deported despite the support of her fellow students and staff. Strangely her mother was eligible for citizenship but she decides to return to Congo for her daughter's sake.
Eastenders first attempt at an African family consisting of a Nigerian Christian woman, Grace Olubunmi (portrayed by Jay Byrd, recast with Ellen Thomas) and her two granddaughters Mercy Olubunmi (portrayed by British Nigerian Bunmi Mojekwu) and Faith Olubunmi (portrayed by British Nigerian Modupe Adeyeye). Grace was initially portrayed as peaceful all-loving Christian woman like many Nigerian women. Graces storylines mostly focused on trying to keep her granddaughters Mercy and Faith away from Fatboy, Leon and Zsa-Zsa from their bad influence on her or trying to convince the group to do more good or charitable work. Though only Fatboy tends honour Grace more so than the other two. She tends to be heavy handed when dealings with her granddaughters, making Mercy write a apology letter to minister Lucas Johnson (after she disrupted Bible studies when questioning some immoral or violent texts of the Bible) or slapping Faith when she hosts a house party and gets drunk, arguing and disrespecting Grace. Grace reveals to Dot Branning that her strictness lead her to lose her job as a teacher for smacking a student. Grace leaves after her Granddaughters do, but whatever happened to them?
Mercy is introduced in the E20 spinoff before added to the main show, she is mostly portrayed as the heart of the group (with Leon, Zsa-Zsa and Fatboy being less pious) and generally gets involved with the teens going to parties with them, accidentally discovering Owen Turner's corpse under a Tina's tree when she and Fatboy knock it over and try to replant it, Mercy and her friends illegally serves drinks for Alfie Moon at his unfinished pub which again causes her to get into trouble with her Grandmother. Mercy's story ends after she is to be deported to Nigeria but marries Fatboy to stay only realising she doesn't love Fatboy the same way and decides to leave to spare him the heart break.
Faith on the other hand is Mercy's younger sister. She is usually Mercy's opposite being introduced in the main show to then leave and return in the E20 spinoff. Brash, loud, confrontational, promiscuous. She was revealed to have been sent to Nigeria to be a good christian girl only to come back much worse and full of spite against her Grandmother. She didn't last long on the square as she only really had slept with her Sister ex-husband Fatboy, argued with Lauren Branning and Whitney Dean and kisses many men at parties including Anthony Moon. She leaves the show after she angers Grace and receives a slap from her. E20 reveals she is squatting with two other Ava and Donnie. She sleeps with Donnie but also tries to help Donnie after discovering he is illiterate (one of her more noble qualities) though she antagonises Ava after discovering she was involved in Arson. Despite all this she later helps Ava and Donnie escape the press when she and Ava become friends. It is never revealed what happened to her, but it is likely Faith went to Nigeria with her Grandmother Grace to reunite with her big sister Mercy and their parents.
British Nigerian Tanya Adeola in Class (Doctor Who Spin off, portrayed by Vivian Oparah). Part of the greater Whoniverse. Class introduces Tanya to the audience as a young intelligent prodigy of Nigerian descent. She is stated to be younger than main students in her year due to being pushed forward as a result of her academic performance and her mother driving her to be more school focused (pretty accurate for anyone with Nigerian parents). Tanya tends to be a bit socially short sighted, she finds it hard to make friends due to being younger than the main cast and seems to be anisocial to some characters due to ethnicity reasons. She even seems to prefer the company of Ram (who is Indian) over the other characters and despite the fact he tends to be rude and cold towards everyone at first. Though she helps him with his homework and in return he is friendlier to her than most. The highlight of her character is how much she grows, one storyline reveals her dad passed away when she was young (something exploited by an alien plant) and in the finale is shown training in hand to hand combat under Miss Quill and fighting alongside her to protect her friends. On a humourous note when she and Ram are video chatting, Tanya gets attacked by an alien Shadowkin. After the alien flees, her mother walks in from hearing the commotion, sees Ram on Tanya's laptop and says: "Oh you're talking to a boy?" with a look of disappointment on her face. So how many Asian and African girls with religious parent can relate to this?
Dadir Hassan in Informer (portrayed by Rwandan born Roger Jean Nsengiyumva). A British Somali lad in his 20s from East London. Dadir Hasan initially comes off a somewhat cold and hostile, but his attempts at being intimidating towards the main character Raza in his first scene was quickly subverted with him smiling and easily befriending Raza. He immediately drops the "Roadman" act when Raza wasn't fazed by him. Understandably due to his economically deprived upbringing and recent loss of his brother Youssef (Portayed be Abubakr Salim) Dadir is initially very angry and pessimistic, but warms up to Raza unaware that Raza is an informant sent to replace Dadir's brother in investigating the same terrorist cell that killed Youssef. Despite some trust issues between the two they do develop a genuine friendship as the series go through which many young British Asians and British Africans can relate to when growing up together in London. Dadir does eventually work a regular day job with Raza to support his parents and sisters> Heart warmingly, Raza tries to prevent Dadir form killing the wrong man by having him speak to Roxy (Youssef's secret girlfriend) upon hearing she is pregnant with Youssef baby, Dadir gets excited to find out he will be an uncle and screams it with joy.
British Ugandan Ben Batambuze in Tracy Beaker (portrayed by British Kenyan Luke Youngblood). We all remember the Story of Tracey Beaker, every British kid from the 90s to early 2000s should. In the first series, the titular character Tracey Beaker goes AWOL from her Care Home until she runs into a young "Kid on the Streets" named Ben Batambuze. Ben befriends her and slowly becomes a regular visitor to the Dumping Ground care home where he is popular friend. However his friendship with Beaker faulters after he injures himself from falling off a tree and needs to be taken home to his wealthy parents much to Tracey's shock that he was lying. Tracey does eventually forgive him when he DJs for her Birthday party, the later series reveal that Ben is fairly lonely as his wealthy parents are constantly busy with work leaving him on his own with so much material belongings but no company. This is a rare example portraying a successful model minority African family without it being so in your face as many would have missed out on Ben's Ugandan heritage if they didn't pay attention to his surname. Luke Youngblood would leave the series likely due to his appearance in the Harry Potter franchise as Lee Jordan the Gryffindor Student who commentates the Quidditch game. Youngblood took a hiatus on acting between 2003 to 2007. He is currently a voice actor in Glitch Techs as Mitch Williams and Fast and Furious: Spy Racers as Frostee Benseon (Yes a fast and furious animated series exists)
Kazima Tako (Portrayed by British South Sudanese Akuc Bol) was born and raised in Somalia until her family were forced to flee their home. Kazima and her Mother end up separated from her Father and Brother. Unfortunately Mrs Tako passes away after drinking contaminated water at the refugee camp. Kazima eventually enters the UK as a refugee living alone in the streets. She is introduced in the series as a homeless girl that befriends Frank. Being forces to survive as a pickpocket she tries to help Frank by stealing his grandfathers watch (which he pawned to pay off a gambling debt) to return to Frank. However Frank's gambling addiction only meant he intends to continue Gambling and likely sell the watch again if he needs to. Leading to Kazima and the other care kids to try and help Frank by ripping off the guy he owed (who was using Frank's girlfriend to cheat at gambling). Kazima was eventually taken in to the Dumping Ground as a resident. She was generally one of the more mature kids there but eventually left to live in Denmark when her Father and Brother finally found out where she was and got in contact with Mike to reunite the remaining members of the Tako family.
Somali Immigrant to Sparkhill, Birmingham we have Omar (Portrayed by Saint Kitts born British actor Felix Dexter), a soft spoken religious friend of Riaz, Dave and Mr Khan. He is frequently seen helping out at the Mosque with many events and usually passing on kind messages, blessings and advice to others. Despite being a fairly passive and quiet character, he alongside Dave was definitely one of the smarter characters to help Mr.Khan most notably when Mr Khan accidentally invites a women to the mosque event (under the impression she was a male cricketer, don't ask), when Dave claims that Women come to the Mosque all the time, there's nothing wrong if the visitors notice her. Omar seem to be the only sane one and has to point out that she is a non-muslim woman looking for a date and is not appropriately dress to be in a mosque especially not in a room full of men. Another sweet side of Omar is him trying to help Nani by calling back to when Omar's own grandmother was bored and feeling unwell, he said the doctor had some pretty good advice. Mr Khan shoots down the suggestion wrongly assuming that the advice would be to feed Nani (Mr Khan's mother in law), medicine made of Snake Venom. Omar bluntly answers with: "no he suggested she plays Sudoku." Omar was written out of future episodes with no mention due to his actor Felix Dexter passing away. They did not recast the role or replace him with another character, but they did at the end of the episode following Felix's last appearance pay respects to him.
British Nigerian Kingsley Shacklebolt in Harry Potter (Portrayed by British Grenadian/Barbadian George Harris) the only adult black character in the initial Harry Potter films, dressed in a purple-blueish dashiki with beaded necklace and a toupi like hat. Its clear Kingsley was supposed to be Nigerian, despite the surname Shacklebolt. Portrayed as one of the Aurors, a member of the ministry of magic and one of Dumbledores most trusted allies. He doesn't get a lot of screen time but is infamous for his quote about Dumbledore having style after the headmaster escapes and resists arrest using Fawkes as a distraction. Either way from the limited time we see Kinglsey throughout the later films, he certainly stands out compared to the rest of the cast in their mostly darker or dulled coloured costumes.
British Nigerian/Ghanaian Eric Effiong in Sex Education (Portrayed by Scottish Rwandan Ncuti Gatwa), the gay best friend of the Otis, known for his loud, camp and outspoken demeanour, it's unsurprising how Eric has gotten a load of fans since the release of Sex Education on Netflix. His best known line: "Wash your Hands you Detty Pig!" has become a huge meme even since the CoVid19 outbreak and has even been used by the NHS as a reminder on keeping personal hygiene. Raised in a strict African christian family, only his father being aware of his son's sexuality after Mr Effiong caught Eric and a female friend Lily watching gay porn. He also has a strange relation with the bully Adam Groff who ends up secretly hooking up with Eric when the two end up in detention together despite their on going antagonism. While Eric's being a Homosexual African christian is a risky take due to how strict traditional families are, it seems Mr Effiong only cares for his sons happiness and wishes not to see him hurt. It is an interesting subversion as many forms of media maybe portray a religious ethnic father as being less understanding and in worst cases disown their gay child rather than allow them to keep their secret.
British Moroccan Sadiq in The Sparticle Mystery (Portrayed by British Moroccan Karim Keroual). The first time an Arab actor or North African actor played the leading role in a British TV show. We have Sadiq, the de facto leader of the Sparticles. To set the scene, an experiment (called the Sparticle Project) goes wrong leaving everyone 15 or older in an alternate earth and leaving behind all of the 14 and unders to fend for themselves. Sadiq leads the group to try and find way to reverse the experiment on their end whilst struggling to survive as a group. Sadiq can come across as protective, brave and selfless as a leader but compared to Kat (the co-lead in series one) he can be impulsive and looks at the smaller picture. From season 2 onwards he is left as the sole leader of the Sparticles but due to truly believing they can merge the realms together to bring back the adults, he is much more open minded to the bigger picture that Kat was trying to tell him. Sadiq charactersation doesn't bring up much regarding his Moroccan heritage, he has a white step-sister Frankie (who he is protective of as much as the others) but that is all we really know out about Sadiq's family. There are two instances where Sadiq takes big risks for the team such as almost freezing to death when sabotaging the cooling system to save the trapped team and running out alone in the irradiated town to the van so he can drive to the team and get them out of the town protected from the said radiation from within the van. He certainly was a great heroic type of leader.
Colour Sergeant King
British Nigerian Colour Sergeant King in Our Girl (Portrayed by British Jamaican Rolan Bell) Nicknamed Kingy the no nonsense but somewhat down to earth Colour Sergeant of the main cast. It may be easy to not notice that his character is a British Nigerian due to the use of the surname King being a fairly unusual choice. During Our Girl season 3 when Kingy, Georgie and Rab are held prisoner by Boko Haram. Kingy tries to reason with them even stating his family are of Nigerian descent not that it helps. Kingy has become a mainstay among the cast and one of the Georgie Lane's closest friends in the series. They do a great job of highlighting how Kingy is both a close personal friend and father like figure to his men, but also a very professional leader who is always on point and is emotionally balanced.