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Highlife / all images courtesy of Channel 4

Black to Front: A review of the best shows from Channel 4’s diversity day

A day of Black love, laughter, luxury and everything in between on Channel 4’s Black to Front.

10 Sep 2021

On 10 September, Channel 4 are running their Black to Front programming initiative, designed to showcase the best of Black British talent in entertainment.

The project arrives in the lead up to Black History Month and is underpinned by Channel 4’s aspirations to be a broadcaster that openly champions marginalised voices. Vivienne Molokwu, a Channel 4 factual entertainment commissioner, told Variety last month that “the true reality is that when you turn on British television, you’d be hard pressed to see for a few hours, let alone the whole day, only Black faces anywhere.”

With that in mind, she hopes for Black to Front to be “something that makes you stop and think about representation.” It’s a mission that feels incredibly relevant given how quickly conversations around around anti-racist allyship seemed to fade away following the resurgence of Black Lives Matter last summer. 

It’s unlikely that a day of all Black programming on Channel 4 will inspire racists to reconsider their prejudices, but for Black British audiences, it promises to be an uplifting day with ample opportunity to see those who look like us shining on screen. 

If, like me, you were gassed as a kid to spend mornings with Angelica Bell on CBBC or June Sarpong on T4, then today should bring you joy. Starting with cameos from Munya Chawawa and The Receipts ladies on a special Big Breakfast Show presented by Mo Gilligan and AJ Odudu, going right through to some late-night Black comedy written by the likes of pop-cultural connoisseur, Bolu Babalola, Black to Front has something for everyone.

Here’s a breakdown of what you can expect.

Countdown (2.10pm)

Hosted by the legendary Sir Trevor Mcdonald and co-presented by Stemettes founder and former child prodigy, Anne-Marie Osawemwenze Ore-Ofe Imafidon (MBE), the Black to Front Countdown special showcases Black British intellect in the best way. 

This might be one to recommend to your parents, but for lovers of wordplay and quick maths it makes for wholesome viewing. Personally, I enjoyed shouting answers at the screen and was fully chuffed with myself when I got the same eight-letter word as contestants Jodene from Brum and Loughborough student, Samuel (though I absolutely flopped all the numbers rounds). In Dictionary Corner are literary icons Marverine Cole and Lemn Sissay, who gives a really insightful and beautiful speech on histories of etymology and emigration.

Love It or List It (8pm)

Pictured: Property experts, presenters and siblings Stuart Douglas and Scarlette Douglas.

The Black to Front spin on property programme Love it or List It was so much more enjoyable than I imagined. In lieu of usual hosts Kirsty Allsop and Phil Spencer, Scarlette Douglas and her brother, former footballer Stuart, take over for some healthy sibling rivalry, as they try to convince an Ipswich couple to either sell or fix up their home.

Considering that only 20% of Black people in Britain are homeowners, there was something really heartwarming about seeing a regular Black British family unit own home on the show, which features couple Norbert and Shami, their two kids and Shami’s mother (because who hasn’t lived with a grandparent at least once in their life). If you’re into architecture and interiors, Love it or List it doesn’t disappoint in giving both in good measure, with Scarlette taking the couple to shop for houses and Stuart getting to work redesigning the awkward layout of their existing home. It may not be as revolutionary as some of the other programmes but it sums up what Black to Front is all about, showing Black faces in everyday situations not just trauma porn.

Highlife (10pm)

Inject it! Highlife is the boujie Black reality show that I didn’t know I needed. It features a cast of Black Londoners and their cliques including influencer extraordinaire, Toni Tone, makeup artist  to the stars Bernicia Boateng, Mayfair’s ‘bussdown King’ Chiefer and Naija’s very own pink princess, DJ Cuppy, and fashion designer Irene Agbontaen

Far from the upper-class joblessness of Made in Chelsea and the (albeit juicy) messiness of the Real Housewives franchises, Highlife serves classy, funny, high drama as we watch the show’s eight main characters navigate their budding careers, romance and a luxurious social scene. The first episode gives everything from drippy outfits and energetic musings on the saucy appeal of “Nigerian men’s vim”, to beef between old flames and the promise of an on-screen Nigerian trad’ wedding (I can’t wait!!) in episodes to come. As one of the show’s which will carry on beyond Black to Front, Highlife is not to be missed.

Big Age (11.05pm)

Pictured: Ronkẹ Adékoluẹjo as ‘Ṣadé Layode’ and Racheal Ofori as ‘Dela Jenkins’

Big Age is hilarious, refreshing and perhaps the most relatable comedy I’ve seen all year. Though entirely in its own lane, the pilot for Love in Colour author Bolu Babalola’s debut sitcom feels like a Black British Broad City meets Insecure

Best friends and protagonists Ṣadé and Dela (played by Ronkẹ Adékoluẹjo and Racheal Ofori) typify the scrambled, quarter-life crisis-having 20-something, creatives that we’ve all either been or known but rarely get to see on tv through the authentic lens of Black British women. In Big Age, the kikis are countless, as we see the girls attempt a ‘rich bitch sitch’ for Ṣadé’s 25th which starts on the bus and ends with a birthday candle on some chicken shop wings. Sprinkle in a cute makeover moment and some classic London fuckboyery, it’s ideal Friday night telly.