Adapted from the award-winning YA series consisting of three novellas by British author Marloie Blackman, Noughts + Crosses features an alternate world where the racial power is flipped. Sephy (played by Masali Baduza) and Callum (played by Jack Rowan) are young star-crossed lovers divided by their color, who put love to the test when they attempt to foster a relationship in a world where their love is forbidden.
The backstory in the world of Noughts + Crosses is that the history we know in real life happened in racial reverse. Centuries ago, Aprica (which we know as Africa) invaded Europe and enslaved the people there. The first episode begins in present day Albion (the show’s version of London) where slavery has long been abolished, however, segregation laws similar to Jim Crow are in effect.
Beyond the subject matter of Noughts + Crosses being relevant to current times, the story is interesting, powerful and thought provoking. I spoke with the show’s leads, Marsali Baduza (Sephy) and Jack Rowan (Callum), about what they hope viewers will walk away with after completing the first season.
Baduza spoke of the desire many people feel to take a grandiose action when they care about something, and feeling discouraged when they don’t know where to start.
In the trailer, Callum says to Sephy, 'There’s only so much I can do about being in the position that I’m in.' And [Sephy] is like, 'Okay, so then at least do that much.' So, for me, what I hope people take away from the show is that to dismantle systems of racism and casteism, you don’t have to do great big things that are above and beyond you. Just do what you can in your community...over time, as a whole, things will change on a big macro-scale.
Sephy belongs to the ruling class of the Crosses in the show. Her father is a political figure, and the Crosses control the politics, culture and wealth in Aprica. Callum belongs to the Noughts, the oppressed and impoverished lower class. There is a growing group of Noughts that becomes fed up with how they are treated by the Crosses and start planning a revolt, but Noughts + Crosses showcases smaller ways to create change as well.
Callum’s mother, Meggie (played by Helen Baxendale), for example, has no interest in fighting. Meggie works for Sephy’s family and is kind to every single person she comes into contact with, regardless of them identifying as a Nought or Cross. While she is not always shown the same kindness in return, her good-natured character goes a long way in identifying and defending to others what a Nought is like, and dismantling any preconceived notions about how Noughts act.
Jack Rowan spoke of his hope that watching the series will lead to introspection and understanding, saying,
Because of the unique twist that the show puts in place, I hope that there’s people out there who may have never experienced racism nor will ever, hopefully they can watch it and understand that a little bit more, because I know I certainly did by even being a part of the show and reading the book.
He spoke of growing up in London, being surrounded by culture and never personally witnessing or experiencing racism. But, when training for the role, they did an exercise where he was ostracized from the rest of the group and he was able to get a taste of it:
Even though it was make believe, I did feel that slight taste of what it might feel for someone who has to deal with that every day, for things that they can't change, they can't hide...color, religious background, whatever it might be. You walk out of the house and people judge you, whether you like it or not because of something that you can’t hide.
You understand it that little bit more because, you know, let’s say a white person is watching our show, and they would naturally subconsciously connect to the Noughts. They’d go, ‘Oh wait, it’s happening to this person that looks like me’. And then they might switch on social media and see the complete opposite.
Rowan was very open about how working on Noughts + Crosses impacted him personally and gave him a new perspective, and he hopes it will do the same for viewers. He continued,
Even our first scene, we start with a bang, police brutality. And we filmed this show before current times, we filmed this last year. It was relevant then and it’s relevant now. Timing has just been perfect in a way - that it’s picking up on such current issues that are so relevant, and hopefully someone can see those videos in a different light now, because it’s still a human being, [that is] being attacked and being hurt and being abused.
Sounds like filming Noughts + Crosses was an enlightening and impactful experience for all involved, including Masali Baduza and Jack Rowan, and that certainly shines through in the finished product. Noughts + Crosses is now streaming on Peacock, where you can also find these hidden gem films and other Peacock Originals.