Dreaming Whilst Black is a thought-provoking, dark comedy that delves into the world of microaggressions people encounter both in the workplace and in their everyday lives. Let’s face it, when confronted with discrimination and racist comments, one coping mechanism is to respond with humor while thinking “are you serious?”. This is precisely what Dreaming Whilst Black accomplishes, and its international success (including a BAFTA win) is a testament to its hilarious approach.
Taji Mag had the opportunity to discuss the show’s achievements and its creative process with key figures such as director Koby Adom, producer Nicola A. Gregory, and executive producer Dhanny Joshi. Here’s what they had to share.
Dapper Dr Feel (DDF): Can you provide insights into the initial pitch for this series and the subsequent reactions it received?
Dhanny Joshi (DJ): I could probably speak to the pitch. We pitched it to the BBC, and so this is something that you’ve not had on your screens before. This is a perspective that has never been shown on British television. And if you don’t have it on your screens, it’s a travesty if you don’t say yes. Fortunately, they listened. We were just, we were very persistent with it. The web series was incredible, so we didn’t have that much of a hard job to do. You put Adjani Salmon in the room with anyone, they will fall in love with him. We charmed and did the work, and then the two married up together, and we got the series.
DDF: Nicola, did you want to add to that?
Nicola A. Gregory (NG): Well, I wasn’t part of the pitch. But in terms of the response and kind of following the show, it has been incredible. The reception has been great.
It is definitely a story that hasn’t been seen on screen or what we cover, which is all completely relatable… from following your dreams to just the everyday life as a creative and the microaggressions that we encounter along the way.
DDF: Koby, can you describe the shooting process for this series? It appears each character’s action is important to advancement of the storyline. Can you give us a little detail about it?
Koby Adom: I think, the writing did a lot of the work, which I really appreciate on any job. Do you know what I mean? Where the story’s really been figured out, because the story is king in what we do. I think it’s like knowing who the characters are, what their goals are, what their obstacles are, what the dilemma is, all of that stuff is already figured out. So then we just come on board and visualize that.
We work with the actors. We know what kind of ideas to give as far as goals in each scene, action verbs. Also allowing them to improv ’cause they’re such a stable foundation. Like this is so solid now, we can do takes where you could just throw certain things in there.
Let’s make this nice and authentic, which I attribute to the brilliant casting, by the way. Heather Basten leading that charge was just brilliant. The casting director just sort of gave us this pool of actors who understood the role already.
So now we’re really just having fun. And as far as the camera work goes, it wasn’t about flamboyant camera work that takes all the attention. I think the script does that, and I think the camera work has to serve that. I think it’s something that I was meant to do, which is just to serve the story. I’m a big storyteller. That’s the thing about me. If you ever see a flipping camera, like back flipping and doing all kinds of stuff, it means something. It has to be earned. So, I think it was really, really interesting.
That’s just me and the rest of the directors. We are all aligned on really understanding what the message and the ethos and the depth of what this piece is and applying our craft to it.
DDF: Did you face any challenges while shooting the film?
There are challenges on every shoot, my friend. But this project was fun. Let’s just put it that way. Do you know what I mean? I like getting my hands dirty and rolling my sleeves up anyway. Who wants smooth sailing? That shit is boring.
I think you get so much more out of finding solutions to problems. You get so much more out of overcoming adversity in the final product. So I think for me it was a challenging shoot, definitely, but we made it work. We stuck together. We’re a great team. We had our ups and our downs, but that’s what you should be able to have in safe spaces. This is exactly what it was. You know, we just all feel very connected and we are all connected to the story.
I think that’s the beauty of this project. Everybody on it is saying amongst each other “Hey, guess what? We’ve been through this. So what’s the point of arguing?” You know, I mean, we get it done.
DDF: I’ll bring up one scene where the lead character, Kwabena, is talking to his boss and pretty much every picture in the background means something or gives a description of the character. And I was just like, ”I hope Koby did that intentionally because it really does help interpret the situation”.
KA: That’s in reference to episode one. That was Sebastian Thiel who directed that episode. So he should get his flowers. All of us had an eye on the whole script to make sure we pull out the necessary bits. You know, to add the nuggets.
NG: Yeah. I’d like to echo that as well. I’m glad that you noticed things in the background and that everything about this show is intentional from the artwork, to the background, to our costume design. Even the neck pendants and necklaces, there are some Easter eggs in there.
I don’t wanna give too much away, but Jody-Simone Howe, our costume designer, did a really good job. Even the slogans on shirts or on baseball caps, everywhere there is a message that kind of gives away what is going to happen in the scene or what our intention is. So from production design to costume, there are messages everywhere.
DDF: Okay. This is a question for all three of you guys. Do you believe humor can be a powerful tool for discussing complex social themes and if so, how?
KA: I think it’s perfect. That’s when you get away with it because you’re just actually just having a laugh. But then guess what? The funny part is the truth. So it’s kind of like when you finish laughing and then the dust settles, you’re like “Ah, you got me there. I probably shouldn’t have laughed… Is that the way I come across?”. But even that’s accountability as well. Like how do we deal with these situations? Do you get what I mean? It’s not just about pointing fingers. This is an exploration of what to do in those situations.
Me personally, I brand myself as quite a bold person. So if I’m in half of those situations, I just walk off. The first bit would be what I’d actually do. But again, just sort of appreciate the situation. Again, it’s very universal.
NG: I think it’s important that you sort of balance between the comedy and the drama. I guess it’s almost like a constant debate with the writers. There’s always the question of “Okay, this is what we wanna say?” “But how do we make it funny?” Because at times, in these matters, you can really lean into the drama, but we’re commissioned to make a comedy here. So there would be instances where we would try to undercut serious moments with unrelated jokes to lighten up the scene, but without minimizing the issues at hand and what we’re trying to discuss. And I think that’s what this show, Dreaming Whilst Black, does brilliantly in terms of balancing the serious matters.
NG: Have you watched the entire series?
DDF: Yes, I watched up to episode six.
NG: Yeah. There’s only six episodes. We wish we had more. Without giving too much away, in episode four (which is mainly about the couple, Maurice and Funmi), we’re touching on themes around fatherhood and Black maternity healthcare, which are quite universally serious.
Even our exec said, “Okay, this is a very serious storyline and a very serious episode”. Yeah. We had to sit and figure out (mainly Johnny and Ali) where can we put funny in here? Which is where the family (over conversations and responses while waiting in the hospital room with Funmi) comes in and other elements sort of really break the tension as it were.
DDF: The show won a BAFTA award! Congratulations. How do you think the US audience will react to the series?
KA: I think they’ll laugh it up. I think it’s a very original presentation and I think when you keep it real, it is hard to deny. It’s like you don’t know why, but this feels true.
I think that’s what makes people consume the content. And I think this would be one of those first British offerings that build a bridge where it’s like, “Hey guys, we’re actually going through the same thing. Let’s laugh together and figure out the solution together. This is not us against each other”. I think Dreaming Whilst Black is honestly one of the most crystal clear representations of Black British culture you’ll get to date. Don’t get me wrong, there’s Top Boy, Chewing Gum, and other representations that have been sort of authentic. But this series is very unapologetic and it is very much, “I’m not mincing my words, this is the issue, but we’re gonna laugh at it”. I think that it would be consumed around the whole world, to be honest with you. I think that’s probably why it’s been sold in so many territories.
DJ: I think so as well. It’s the everyday man and woman. It’s just real people with real-life experiences that will travel. Other shows, which are all great, in some cases are not so relatable to the everyday person who’s got the nine-to-five mundane job.
Right. But, with this show, it’s just relatable. People, especially people of color, will relate to the microaggressions. They’ll relate to workspace experiences as a minority, for example. Some people may even relate to the microaggressions and be like, “Oh shit, I’ve done that. Oh, didn’t realize that could be perceived in a certain way”.
So I think there’s something there for everyone. Still, I think fundamentally it’s about someone pursuing this dream, whether that’s Kwebs or whether that’s Amy navigating her passion and how she navigates in the workspace as well. I think there’s something there for everyone.
So we are excited about how it’s gonna be received over there (in the U.S.).
KA: I was gonna say, I feel like there’s also the successful Black woman, Vanessa, which I think is another master stroke. It’s not some poor woman who’s trying to eat a lobster and flaming on and ordering champagne like that’s normal.
Those girls exist if you know what I mean. So showing their sort of flamboyance and their grandeur, I think, was brilliant. Do you know what I’m saying to you? There are very successful Black women in other industries who have the money to spend at high-end restaurants and buy designer clothes and stuff.
NG: So I think, honestly, this is everything in which I know is testament in America as well. So I think there’s just everything in there. So many points of connection. Yeah, I think it’s really about being able to highlight and embrace our shared experiences. I think sometimes, when you’re across the pond, you think that life in Britain is very different, but I think it’s very relatable, and it’s shared experiences across the board.
Dreaming Whilst Black in Conclusion
As this series is relatable not only to the Black experience but also to those who are in the minority, the beauty of it all lies in its ability to bring people together through laughter. Dreaming Whilst Black is more than just a comedy; it’s a social commentary piece that explores the challenges of navigating not only the workplace and career, but life in general.
The series excels at taking vulnerable and degrading moments in life and using humor to shed light on these trials and tribulations. Every character in the series is relatable, and the depiction of family and culture resonates with most of us. Throughout it all, we see themes of love, family, and caring. My favorite and most emotional episode, episode 4 titled “The Birth”, explores masculinity, concerns of Black maternity in the healthcare system, and unpacking childhood trauma that affects us as adults.
My personal favorite character is Amy; her unwavering pursuit of her goals is admirable, and her morals are constantly put to the test, much like Kwebs. However, it’s her facial expressions and reactions to the absurdity happening around her that truly shine and her ability to bring joy out of Kwebs (which I have more thoughts about that I would love to discuss at a later date).
Dreaming Whilst Black is beautifully shot, and every aspect of the series contributes to its storyline. While I don’t like to make comparisons between series and movies too often, I can’t help but draw a parallel to the relatability that Insecure had with its audience. This is why I believe Dreaming Whilst Black will have a long hull in the world of entertainment worldwide.