Adjani Salmon (right) explores racial microaggressions in BBC’s Dreaming Whilst Black (Picture: BBC)
If you haven’t yet watched Dreaming Whilst Black on BBC3, you’re doing yourself an injustice.
Adjani Salmon is the creator and lead star of the 30-minute comedy drama which arrived on BBC iPlayer this week. It follows aspiring filmmaker Kwabena (Salmon) in and out of reality as he tries to make his dreams come true.
With the echoes of his family’s disappointment at his chosen career in his ears and a complicated personal life to navigate, Kwabena attempts to scale all of the hurdles laid out in front of him to get his script commissioned.
He also has to contend with his misery in his current job as a recruitment consultant and the racial microaggressions from his colleagues. This is anything from subtle comments about his hair to eating hot food in the office and – hilariously – being forced to rap at karaoke.
Of course, this is all done with brilliantly sharp wit but the topics will undoubtedly resonate with viewers who have experienced similar situations, while providing an eye-opening watch for others.
However, Dreaming Whilst Black almost never was as Jamaican-native Adjani explained to Metro.co.uk: ‘It’s weird because I didn’t initially think to myself, “I’m going to make a show about race”.
‘When I’m in Jamaica, race is not really a thing. It’s like, yeah we’re Black, but we’re all Black. So even when we talk about police brutality, the language is not about race because it’s Black police.
‘So coming to England and being “othered” is an interesting experience – being “othered” as an adult. My cousins who grew up here, they grew up in it so for me it was like, what is this?’
Dreaming Whilst Black was originally a hugely popular web series which began in 2018 before being commissioned by the BBC. Adjani used the experiences of himself and his friends to create the character of Kwabena and the obstacles he faces as an aspiring filmmaker.
‘There are many companies that have one or two Black people in that space, and I have been that person. So I was like, we can’t just have him [Kwabena] there and not talk not about that,’ Adjani explained.
‘It was just a perfect opportunity to show some observations, to have fun and to make fun.
‘Just to show how for Black people, this is messed up but it’s also funny depending how you swing it. It’s really just to show everyday life and I see for a lot of Black people, microaggressions unfortunately is a part of everyday life.’
Kwabena is an aspiring filmmaker just trying to fulfil his dreams (Picture: BBC)
While creating Dreaming Whilst Black, Adjani was inspired by the success stories of Michael Dapaah’s viral online series SWIL, and Issa Rae landing a third season of Insecure across the pond, as well as Cecile Emeke’s series Akee and Saltfish from years ago.
‘I was thinking, well, those people didn’t beg for commissions to get into the industry, they just did it and smashed it,’ Adjani recalled.
‘I got tired of asking for permission, whether it’s for funding or applying for grants and you hear all the no’s and not enough this, not enough that.’
At one point in the episode, Kwabena tells a friend that it’s about ‘who you know’ while trying to get his script seen by the right people. It’s a loaded line that, for a Black person, can be about race as much as nepotism.
Adjani said: ‘“Who you know” is the crux of the film industry.
‘When you start applying for funding and trying to get into certain spaces, even the knowing of opportunities depends on who you know.
‘It’s who you know’: Kwabena used his contacts to get his script seen in the right places (Picture: BBC)
‘I came here and I didn’t know anybody, I didn’t have any access which is partly why we released it on YouTube, because we didn’t know nobody.’
Sebastian Thiel directed the BBC3 version of Dreaming Whilst Black and envisioned FX series Atlanta, starring Donald Glover, when taking the helm of Adjani’s baby.
Sharing his experience of the TV industry as a Black man, the filmmaker said: ‘Because of how I’ve seen the industry from young, before I started to work for the BBC, I used to see it as a place that’s not for me.
‘So I took to YouTube to develop my own things, my own stories, provide voices that I felt weren’t shown in the mainstream so for me it was about being proactive and trying to make something and do something regardless of whether we’re getting let in or not.
Director Sebastian Thiel talks through his creative vision for Dreaming Whilst Black
‘Then as I’ve got into the industry, you do sometimes feel like people might not be understanding what you’re trying to do with stories or how your story is different.’
He added: ‘I think the way around that for me is to do as much of the work as I can and then they buy into it.’
Sebastian – who also runs the hugely popular Instagram account Dope Black Art – went on to celebrate Michaela Coel’s success with I May Destroy You last year, which was widely hailed as the best drama of 2020 in both the UK and US.
He hopes that Michaela’s series has shown that Black creativity isn’t just limited to topics about race, having also helmed the romantic drama, Just A Couple, recently himself.
‘I think some of those stories are out there but maybe they don’t get as amplified as much,’ Sebastian said.
‘I do think Michaela’s work definitely has opened up the doors more because she’s put Black British culture on the map in terms of young youth culture.’
So, will Dreaming Whilst Black be commissioned for a full series? Adjani’s certainly dreaming of it.
‘That’s been the plan but the BBC haven’t made a decision yet. Hopefully they will soon,’ he said optimistically.
Dreaming Whilst Black is available to watch on BBC iPlayer.