White: White Girl (BBC2 series)

white girl‘White Girl’ was a gritty and emotional drama about a white family that relocates from Leeds to an almost entirely Asian Muslim community in Bradford. As the BBC2 website puts it:

“Abi Morgan’s compelling film is told from the perspective of 11-year-old Leah, played by newcomer Holly Kenny, whose world is turned upside down when her mum Debbie (Bleak House’s Anna Maxwell Martin) moves the family to Bradford to escape the fallout from her recent relationship break-up.

Leah becomes friends with her neighbour Yasmin and discovers that the culture she was initially intimidated by isn’t so alien after all. She is soon seeking sanctuary in the rituals of Islam, away from the pain and strife at home. But this innocent fascination turns sour for Debbie when her daughter comes home wearing a hijab, and the family’s violent reaction has explosive consequences for everyone.”

What was interesting about the drama was that despite there being much made about Islam – see the accompanying images above as a case in point – Islam was almost incidental. Clearly, all the positive role models in Leah’s life were Muslim, but it was the security and maybe the spirituality that Islam afforded her that was attractive rather than anything else. Likewise, there also seemed to be something about the ‘otherness’ of Islam that was attractive to her. Because of this, the drama was clearly not suggesting that Islam provided the ‘answers’ to the ‘problems’ in society but that when people are trapped in a void of nothingness and desperation, they need something to give them a glimmer of hope. For Leah, this was the security, ritual and relative tranquility of Islam.

In terms of being ‘white, working class’, the drama raised some interesting questions: around their lifestyles, hopes and aspirations. Throughout the series so far, the identity of the white working classes seemes to be central to BBC2’s series: an identity that seems to be one that is in deep crisis. In contrast to the highly romanticised version of Islam that the drama presented, the white working classes were represented as being self-destructive and damaging, lacking a sense of community and togetherness, and possibly even lacking any sense of moral underpinning. All in all, the drama did little to present a positive image of the white working class identity. More pertinently, the series seems to be ringing its final death toll.

‘White Girl’ then was an interesting drama and one that reversed the tide of recent media representations that identify Islam and Muslims in entirely negative frames. Whilst probably going a little too far in the positive (romantic?) direction, the drama was engaging, timely and an important reminder of the problems that ‘white’ society has in a time when Government and far too many others continue to disproportionately focus on the ‘problems’ of the ‘others’.


7 thoughts on “White: White Girl (BBC2 series)

  1. I was quite disgusted by this drama. Although I will say the acting was excellent. However, to put this programme on during a supposed ‘white season’ which was to study the white working class, seems to be an intentional kick in the teeth to the aforementioned group. So far, this hard working sector of British society has been portrayed as illiterate, racist and lazy ‘stuck-in-the-mud’ fools over the last week.

    With respect I must disagree with your assertion that the factor of Islam in this drama was ‘incidental’. The religious preaching by the school teacher and neighbour, to the eldest daughter, about the benefits of Islam was certainly an extremely politically correct interpretation of Islam as a ‘religion of peace’. I’m afraid, personally, I see it as anything but. Then there was also the factually incorrect advice, which in an indirect way suggested a Muslim wife can divorce her husband with mere words.

    I think if the roles had been reversed, with the worst type of Muslim family moving into a respectable white non-Muslim area, then this drama would not have ventured past the drawing board in the BBC studios.

    1. may i just say that Islam is shown by the western culture to be very evil, hurtful and plain horrible…however Islam does not portray terror or evil in the Koran it says that if you hurt a man you hurt the whole of mankind, showing we are all humans. Their is no evil in Islam, sometimes i struggle to even think what goes into the mind of a person who believes in Islamic terrorism. Its like saying exact estimate, or the same difference! Islamic terrorism makes no sense whatsoever!
      Just wanted my voice to be heard thanks for readin!:)

  2. Hi Beaman (apologies if that’s not your name),

    I think maybe you’ve misread some of the things that I said – as such let me pick up on them.

    I suggested that Islam was “incidental” because at the end of the drama, when Leah got the security she needed from her mother, she removed all the outer manifestations of Islam (hijab etc). This didn’t seem to suggest that Islam was the answer for her, but instead that it was security, love and belonging.

    I also suggested that there “seemed to be something about the ‘otherness’ of Islam that was attractive” to Leah and by this I meant that it was the hijab, the culture, essentially the ‘difference’ that seemed to appeal, rather more so than anything else.

    In terms of the representation of Islam and Muslims, I also stated that the drama presented a “romanticised version” of the religion and so I think that this observation would in many ways agree with the point that you yourself made. However, I don’t think that this is all bad in the same way that I don’t think that every now and again getting a ‘bad’ representation of Muslims/ Islam is a tragedy either. Despite what some might argue, there are ‘good’ and ‘bad’ in all communities, Muslim, non-, white, black etc.

    And finally, I do agree that the series has raised some difficult questions about the white working classes. However, I do think that this was played out better in the ‘Last Orders’ documentary where a discussion between a father and son highlighted how difficult it is now to argue that a white working class identity continues to exist. Hence my observation about these programmes being largely about a loss of identity rather more so than anything else.

    I do wonder whether you’d have been as disturbed if there had been a series entitled ‘Black’ and the programmes in this series had represented black working class communities in the same way? Maybe I’m being a little harsh.

    To wrap up, “the drama was clearly not suggesting that Islam provided the ‘answers’ to the ‘problems’ in society” and I’m going to stick to that comment. Also, ‘White Girl’ was a DRAMA and so things don’t always have to be entirely accurate (see the BBC’s ‘Ashes to Ashes’, ‘Holby City’, ‘Casualty’ etc – all dramas and all far from being completely real). All I can say is that sometimes drama requires you to take a ‘leap of faith’ (if you pardon the pun…!!!).


  3. Being a member of the white unemployed class (previously known as working class) I was expecting to see a taut ‘fly on the wall’ type drama with superb acting like the good old days of TV drama. I was’nt disappointed until I quickly realised that this was a drama about a white dysfunctional family being rehoused into a muslim community which prompted a peal of PC alarm bells. What was portrayed and may have given the impression to the easily impressionable was that ALL white working class families contain violent, abusive, drunken low lifes whose only hope of salvation is through the benign ‘religion of peace’, Islam. Yet another example of BBC pandering to the muslims with a blatant piece of ridiculously biased propaganda. Beaman succinctly pointed out, ‘if the roles had been reversed, with the worst type of Muslim family moving into a respectable white non-Muslim area, then this drama would not have ventured past the drawing board in the BBC studios.’ Also, I wonder if are we going to see a similar gritty drama about young muslim girls being removed from schools in Luton to be married off to unknown ‘husbands’ in Pakistan. According to recent figures published yesterday, there were 300 girls reported absent in Luton alone which should make very uncomfortable reading for the Muslim Council of Great Britain, if indeed they actually care.

  4. Leah converted to Islam earlier in the drama which therefore means unless she became an apostate, she was very much still a Muslim. As even you must admit, people who leave the Islamic religion do not have a happy ride thereafter from their community. There was no indication she had thrown off the bonds of Islam.

    I agree, she was attracted to something different which held the appeal of ordered structure and sympathy when she needed it most. However to portray Islam as the epitome of tolerance, peacefulness and respect for the female gender when every year hundreds of Muslim girls are forced into marriages, where Mosques nationwide are hotbeds for extremism and the threats against Salmon Rushdie and cartoonists is widespread, is pure BBC propaganda. It was a lot more than a ‘romanticised version’ of Islam.

    ‘Last Orders’ was also extremely poorly done. It portrayed the white working class as ignorant and old fashioned racists. Why did they feel the need to interview a yob with a swastika in the middle of the Union Jack? Was he meant to represent the young white working class of today? Disgusting parties like the BNP have very little support nationwide and it was extremely repellent of the BBC to make such assumptions about sections of society they obviously do not know.

    Yes, I would point out the terrible bias regardless of the race being portrayed, especially in regards to the drama. Whether it had been a black, Hindu, Sikh, Chinese or Greek family being portrayed as morally corrupt in a neighbourhood of pious, ‘can-do-no-wrong’, preaching Islamic families and teachers, I would be as equally troubled.

    Of course a white working class identity exists. How can you say otherwise? Just because the BBC portrays them as lost, ignorant, racist and illiterate doesn’t mean the majority are actually like that. I studied with working class students who had a great deal of cultural confidence and identity, plus they were thoroughly hard working. The BBC ‘white season’ has put down, sledgehammer style, the ordinary man in the street as much as it has raised up the feathers of one of the most troubled and potentially dangerous sections of society, the Muslim communities.

    It was a drama indeed but its inclusion in ‘white season’ which was meant to be a study of the white working class, was either seriously misplaced or intentionally cruel.

    (By the way, do you mind if I paste this comment section on my blog? I will link back to your blog of course and will not add any extra words other than a small introduction. I get quite a few commenters on my blog and it might be interesting to see what others think, given our rather polar opposite views. I will add too whatever you reply with to this comment I’ve just written. Maybe I could add a little about your background in Islamic studies? If not, I will understand and will only go ahead if you give your consent.)


  5. Hi Beaman and Alfie,

    Beaman – happy for you to link to this site and post the comments – I have no problem with debate as long as we all respect each other’s differences of opinion. So no problem there…

    Alfie – It’s amazing, because there are far more than 300 drunken white working class people in towns and cities every weekend across Britain so maybe the representation is not entirely unfair in much the same way that a representation of some Muslims being misogynistic wouldn’t also be entirely unfair.

    However, I’m not defending either the BBC or the series, I’m only commentating and would encourage you to read my post on the ‘reality tv’ programme “Make Me A Muslim” where I am very critical of both Channel 4 AND the Muslims that were involved. Similarly, on the post “Some people are gay. Get over it”, I’m also very critical of some Muslims as well.

    One thing though, I try not to make sweeping generalisations about anyone whether that is the ‘white working classes’ (which I do personally feel are undergoing a crisis of identity not least because of the post-thatcher years and the pressure for all to ‘aspire’ to being middle-class) or Muslims either.


  6. Hello Chris.

    I made a post about our discussion. If you have any complaints or bits you’d like adding, then of course let me know and I will amend anything. Thanks for your permission.


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