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'It's time to take the right steps forward': in conversation with the cast of Boarders

The cast of the upcoming BBC series, Boarders, discuss Bristol, acting and stories that need to be told.

Courtesy of BBC Drama

By Arron Kennon, Film & TV Editor

Welcome to the uproarious world of Boarders, a dynamic and captivating series that seamlessly blends high-energy comedy with poignant coming-of-age drama. Set against the backdrop of the British public school system, Boarders chronicles the adventures of five exceptionally talented black inner-city teenagers: Jaheim (Josh Teduku), Leah (Jodie Campbell), Omar (Myles Kamwendo), Toby (Sekou Diaby), and Femi (Aruna Jalloh). 

Their lives take an unexpected turn when a viral video lands them in the spotlight, leading to an offer of sixth-form scholarships at St Gilbert’s, one of the nation’s most prestigious schools. Suddenly thrust into a realm reminiscent of something out of Harry Potter, they must navigate the labyrinthine corridors of privilege, lush playing fields, and arcane social codes, all while grappling with their own identities and the stark realities of living alongside the elite one percent.

Courtesy of BBC Drama

As much of the series was shot in Bristol, I sat down with the lead cast of Boarders and delved into their experiences of the city, insights into acting, and the unique blend of comedy and raw realism that defines the show.

‘The nature of it is beautiful. Like the downs, we were walking there all the time. The sunsets were hitting because we were filming in summer [...] they hit every day. It was like, wow, beautiful,’ remarked Jodie, reflecting on the unexpected beauty the city unveiled during filming. Aruna chimed in on his experience at Forwards Festival, ‘You guys brought me closer to my future wife, um, Erykah Badu, and I’m forever grateful for that.’ 

However, beyond the scenic backdrop lies the heart of Boarders – a narrative unafraid to confront pressing societal issues head-on. Josh emphasized the show's authenticity, stating, ‘This doesn't pull any punches or try to be preachy about it. It just shows you what it's really like.’ In an era where conversations surrounding institutionalized racism and societal inequalities are reaching new heights, Boarders emerges as a poignant reflection of the times, igniting dialogue and fostering empathy. Josh continued, ‘it's not nice, is it? But yeah it’s there.’ His words resonate with a profound honesty, emphasizing the importance of unfiltered storytelling in addressing societal challenges.

Courtesy of BBC Drama

The integration of comedy within such weighty themes is fundamental to the shows effectiveness. Aruna astutely noted how humor often serves as a gateway to discussing uncomfortable truths. ‘Comedians joke about stuff because they're anxious about it. It's the only way that they can really talk about it [...] it's a great lead into talking about uncomfortable things,’ he concluded, encapsulating the essence of comedy as a means of encouraging dialogue.

Drawing from personal experiences while embodying new characters proved to be a transformative process for the cast. Myles shared his journey, stating, 'I went to school where I was the minority, you know, so I was able to draw from that experience and bring that to the table which was very helpful. But then again, we're creating new characters [...] it was a melding of those two things.' His insights underscore the intricate balance between personal history and artistic creation, highlighting the depth and complexity of the characters portrayed in Boarders.

Reflecting upon what can be learned from fusing personal and fictional experiences, Jodie remarked, ‘it's really different ways to tackle political situations [...] I think the way Leah handles experiences is very different from how Jodie would [...] I feel like I’ve learned a lot from that.’ 

Courtesy of BBC Drama

As the conversation shifted towards the future, the cast expressed a collective desire to continue exploring diverse narratives that transcend conventional boundaries. Josh articulated his aspirations, envisioning a future where black stories encompass a myriad of experiences beyond historical tropes. ‘There are only a few things I really don't want to do and that's the things that have already constantly been told in the black community.’

‘I feel like we are at a stage where it's time to take the right steps forward, where black people can finally just tell stories instead of them having to be stories from the past where we're slaves or stories where we're fighting, and then there’s violence and all that and that's the only way we can get people engaged now. We've got so much more to tell, so much more creativity.'

Courtesy of BBC Drama

After such an illuminating discussion with the cast, it became clear how Boarders has emerged as more than just a television series. It is a testament to the power of storytelling in fostering understanding and driving social change. Through its candid portrayal of life's complexities, the show invites viewers to confront uncomfortable truths with compassion and humour.

Boarders premiers tonight at 9pm on BBC 3.