In the past few years, Black British TV has slowly been making a name for itself. Shows like I May Destroy You by Michaela Coel and Top Boy – which features talent including Kane Robinson, Ashley Walters and Micheal Ward – have received global success, but there are still so many Black British stories to tell.
Like the many experiences of people who are impacted by sickle cell disease, for example – a disease that disproportionately affects Black people.
Why Me, a comedy written and performed by Nikki Fagbemi, brings the topic to life in a new short film set to premiere on Sky Arts and Freeview.
The film follows the protagonist Naima, who is a bookie’s assistant that has a lot on her plate. We see her managing the difficulties of being the eldest sibling in an immigrant household. And at work, she has to deal with a difficult boss and the stress of working at a betting shop as a woman. But her most taxing issue is her health.
Naima has sickle cell, an incurable disease that affects 15,000 people in the UK, caused by a gene that affects how red blood cells develop. Symptoms begin showing from early childhood and while the disease is lifelong and requires medication, many patients lead relatively normal lives.
However, they can suffer regular and painful episodes, caused by sickle-shaped red blood cells blocking the small blood vessels.
Fagbemi suffers from sickle cell in real life and tells HuffPost UK she wanted to shine a light on the disease “because we never see it discussed on mainstream television.”
“Every time I’ve come across a conversation about sickle cell, it’s usually when someone has passed on and this condition affects so many people daily and it’s time for people to start having open dialogue about how it affects the people close to you,” she adds.
She describes her experience with sickle cell as a rollercoaster. Fagbemi spent several years not understanding the condition but eventually came to terms with the fact she has a chronic illness.
“It is not an easy condition to live with, but I like to focus on the positives and I believe it has taught me a lot about empathy and also made me all that more determined,” she says.
When asked what she wants viewers to take away from the show, she said: “To understand that not every disability is visible and every day we meet people that could do with some kindness and grace even when they don’t look like they need it.
“I also want anyone living with a chronic and invisible illness to feel seen and represented on screen.”
The short film is part of Unearthed Narratives, an initiative created by Sky Studios and DBK Studios to celebrate and increase representation of Black Brits on and off screen. The short films feature some of the best emerging talent from the Black community.
Koby Adom, founder of DBK Studios, explains the thinking behind the project.
“When I entered into the UK film and TV space in 2018, I quickly realised that there were not many people like me, from my background or community, with my experiences,” he says.
“I also realised that when it came to the business side of the media and entertainment industry, there was often a gap in knowledge and support for black creatives.
“I started DBK studios to deal with both of those issues to make more black stories and stories from other ethnic groups whilst also ironing out some of the bad practices that the industry had thus far and to prepare for the future.”
The short films are set to premiere on Sky Arts and Freeview across five consecutive nights from Monday April 4 to Friday April 8.
Fagbemi believes that Unearthed Narratives is so important because it’s putting stories that we don’t usually hear about on the front line.
“Every single one of the five shorts addresses topics that need to be spoken about,” she says. “And I know the impact that these shorts will have on the next set of film makers and the stories it will inspire them to tell.”
You can watch ‘Why Me?’ from Thursday April 7 on Sky Arts and Freeview.