A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this TV show.
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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Noughts + Crosses is a series about an alternate reality in which people of color reign supreme, and light-skinned citizens are an oppressed underclass. The fictional role-reversal effectively points out some of the real-life racism that people endure, and may inspire empathy and compassion in viewers. Violence plays a part in this series: characters are involved in a political protest group, and there is violence connected with their uprising, including police brutality that includes a young boy being hit with a baton and then falling into a coma. A murder and other deaths take place on-screen, but there's no gore and little blood. Language is infrequent: we hear "s--t," and an invented racial slur for light-skinned people: "blankers." A romance is at the center of the action, but what we see is mild: kissing and references to sex. A married couple cheats on each other and fights about it; we see one member kissing a boyfriend, though they're interrupted before they can have sex. Characters drink at bars and gatherings, but no one acts drunk; teens drink (it's worth noting that the legal drinking age in England, where this show was made, is 18). Based on a popular young-adult series, this show is suitable for teens, and fine whole-family viewing.
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What's the story?
Based on Malorie Blackman’s award-winning young adult book series, NOUGHTS + CROSSES takes place in a fictional stand-in for England, Albion, which is located in a Europe that was colonized by Aprica (this world's Africa). In modern-day Aprica, dark-skinned Crosses hold all the power, while light-skinned Noughts are more or less a permanent underclass. Against this backdrop, Sephy (Masali Baduza), the daughter of a powerful Cross official, coincidentally meets up with Callum (Jack Rowan), the son of struggling Noughts. Nought-Cross relationships are illegal, but they fall in love anyway, which puts them and their families in great danger. As the oppressed Noughts grow steadily more restless and the Crosses more determined to thwart their progress, Sephy and Callum are swept up in political intrigue that may have tragic results.
Is it any good?
Compelling actors, smart and gorgeous costume and set design, and an intriguing alternative-history premise combine in a series viewers will find difficult to stop watching once it's taken hold. The Romeo and Juliet-esque love story at the center of Noughts + Crosses' action is a little underbaked -- Sephy and Callum just don't have that much contact before they fall in the kind of love that demands sacrifice -- but it's easy to forgive that when the show surrounding them is so cool. One of the most brilliant things about Noughts + Crosses is how it communicates the differences between Albion and real-world England: a statue of a beautiful Black woman commands Albion's skyline; powerful Crosses wear vibrant African prints; coils, braids, and locks are the height of diplomatic sophistication. Meanwhile, the less-valued status of the Noughts is elegantly displayed in their costumes and styling: they wear cheap knockoffs of the African fabrics, and their braids hang unfashionably limp.
The micro-aggressions leveled against Callum and his fellow light-skinned Albion citizens are pointed and affecting, too. When Callum cuts his hand at a party, the bandage offered him is dark brown. A newspaper headline characterizes an incident of official brutality as "Police act against Nought thugs," illustrating the story with a picture of a pale young man with a glare and a hoodie. Artwork in museums, homes, and public places only depict Crosses. Cross characters blithely discuss everything from the intelligence of Noughts to their sex lives, secure in the knowledge that they'll face little reprisal. As Noughts + Crosses' plot ramps up into an insurrection, it's easy to see that this is a parable for our times, one that's entirely absorbing -- but, hopes the viewer, not actually prescient.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about racism in Noughts + Crosses' world. How are light-skinned people treated in Albion? What privileges do darker-skinned people enjoy? How is the racism in Albion similar to that in modern-day America? What conclusions are we expected to draw?
How does Noughts + Crosses differ from more traditional sci-fi series? How does it balance its sci-fi genre elements with its depiction of realistic struggles and challenges? Are dark-skinned characters common in science fiction? What sorts of roles are generally assigned to people of color? What about white people?
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