Hollyoaks made a powerful statement aimed at examining unconscious bias through the lens of race and gender in a ground-breaking storyline that focused on a day in the life of Martine – played by Kelle Bryan.
The special Hollyoaks episode, which aired on 14 April (E4) and 15 April (C4), captured an entire day from the perspective of Martine, the Black matriarch of the Deveraux family, as she faces a serious health issue after finding a breast lump.
In the same 24 hours her love-rival Grace – Tamara Wall – also needs medical attention. The episode follows the experiences of the two women that day, Martine’s struggles as a Black woman filter through in a range of encounters – highlighting microaggressions towards her as viewers see Grace’s alternative experience from a white woman’s shoes.
Ahead of the episode showing, Hollyoaks cast members Richard Blackwood (Felix Westwood), Andrea Ali (Celeste Deveraux) and writer Karla Marie Sweet joined the Don’t Filter Feelings podcast, to speak about the effect unconscious racial bias has had on their lives and their involvement in this important storyline.
“If you react to every single minor aggression, you will spend your day arguing and you won’t get anything done and it becomes part and parcel of life…”
Speaking to broadcaster Yinka Bokini, who hosted the podcast, Richard and Andrea discuss how personal experience goes toward informing the way they portray their characters in the show, and likewise Karla discussed how her lived experience feeds into and shapes her creative choices as one of the show’s writers.
Yinka also describes her own experiences, saying: “If you react to every single minor aggression, you will spend your day arguing and you won’t get anything done and it becomes part and parcel of life and I think that’s why this series of episodes is so good because it shows just how exhausting it is to go through the world when at every turn…there is something that reminds you that you are Other.”
Andrea Ali – who plays Martine’s daughter Celeste was full of praise for the episode, saying: “It was done in a way which was so raw and literally so accurate….I think it will cause people to stop and look at themselves, to look at the environments they’ve been in …
“I think people go…. ‘it’s either racist or it’s not’. But then there’s a space that sits between which are the microaggressions, which are the experiences of Black people as a whole feel.
“It was articulated so well that you have no choice to look at that and go…I have to now think about whether or not ‘I’ have ever been in a situation where I have been unconsciously-biased towards someone because its highlighted so blatantly in these episodes. And it’s so powerful.”
“… there’s a space that sits between which are the microaggressions, which are the experiences of Black people as a whole feel.”
Writer Karla exposed a familiar narrative in writing the episode. Referring to a scene in which Martine is accused of being ‘aggressive’ in her tone, she said during the podcast: “There are all these stereotypes that are ingrained in our culture, that so many of us, particularly as Black women, who feel a lot of the time that we can’t speak up about things….and so we are constantly having to check ourselves and having to prove ourselves and that is the day-to-day reality. And so, the reason we have this episode, taking Martine through her day – is to send that message home.”
The episode offered a fresh perspective as a Black man to Richard Blackwood whose character Felix is torn between his ex Martine and new flame Grace. He said: “One of the things that did stand out to me was I’m guilty of calling Black women ‘strong Black queens’ and I always use it as a term of endearment – because a strong part of me knows that struggles of a Black woman, vicariously through my mum and sister and family – but when Kelle’s character says ‘why do I always have to be that character?’….when I watched it back it made me go ‘wow’. I’ve never stopped to think what that pressure might feel like.
“… when I watched it back it made me go ‘wow’. I’ve never stopped to think what that pressure might feel like.”
“Because what I am essentially saying is that you are not allowed to show vulnerability. You are not allowed to say a situation has hurt or troubled you because it doesn’t adhere to being a strong Black woman…I never thought that as a Black man I was already contributing to the pressures that a Black woman, or woman of colour was having to face.”
This episode, which was directed by Edem Kelman, is a storyline that will hopefully lead to further discussion and understanding of the Black experience in mainstream spaces.
Watch the episode on Channel 4 On Demand.
Listen to the Don’t Filter Feelings podcast on Unconscious Bias here.