Following the collective cultural trauma and societal change felt by many throughout 2020 and the continuing upheaval in the advent of 2021, streamer Peacock’s new series Noughts + Crosses enters the fray to showcase a view of an alternate future. In the vein of other alternate future series such as “The Man in the High Castle” — Noughts + Crosses imagines a future in which Africa became a global superpower — its united nations banding together under the banner of “Aprica”. Aprica continues to grow in strength and influence eventually overtaking Europe, establishing a multi-continent empire.
Aprica and its seat Albion (formerly London) is a gleaming futuristic metropolis seamlessly weaving the two cultures together in an impressive display of Afrofuturism that evokes the awe of Wakanda in Marvel’s Black Panther.
However, in this futuristic megalopolis, one major change becomes clear in that traditional racial norms have been reversed: Whites have become relegated to a dejected subclass known as “Noughts” destined to service their Aprican superiors known as “Crosses”.This class divide creates escalating tensions between Crosses and Noughts in the form of police skirmishes with Nought residents. One night out in a Nought neighborhood, brothers Callum, Jude, and their friend Danny are interrogated and detained by Cross Police forces who brutally beat Danny into a coma under the false pretense of Danny carrying a weapon.
In an eerie parallel to 2020, Albion’s media reports the event as the result of a purported attack on uniformed officers although no such evidence exists. This turn of events galvanizes the Noughts and even leads some progressive-leaning Crosses to question what the definition of an attack is, exactly and what the proper response to feeling threatened might be.
In even more 2020 parallels, the vigil at the hospital for Danny is considered as a riot and is brutally snuffed out, branded by Crosses as an illegal assembly.
Even the Crosses Home Secretary, played by Law & Order UK star Peterson Joseph, initially defends the riot as a vigil, although he is quickly corrected by Prime Minister Opal Folami,(played by Bonnie Mbuli of 2009’s Invictus) “No, it’s a riot — We can’t be seen as being soft on law & order.”
Folami even goes so far as to intone about the escalating violence: “We must be careful not to become too homogenized -we have to protect our identity. There is strength in difference.”
“Sephy” Hadley, the daughter of a Cross politician and childhood friend of Callum even uses these world-altering events to confront and reanalyze her own biases questioning why two defenseless Noughts would fight two heavily-armed policemen and vice -versa. Sephy even comes to the conclusion “I wanted to pretend that I wasn’t like that, that I wasn’t like the other Crosses — but I am, I just didn’t realize it.”
“I wanted to pretend that I wasn’t like that, that I wasn’t like the other Crosses — but I am, I just didn’t realize it.”
The series main plot hinges on a taboo romance of star-crossed lovers in the form of Sephy and Callum navigating a relationship within the thorny politics of Albion in the midst of a Nought uprising and wisely avoids any of the well-worn “white savior” tropes that have hamstrung similar fare. The show finds great balance watching the characters teetering on the edge of something daring and dangerous while watching them plumb the depths of their convictions to their respective causes.
What makes the series truly unique is the way in which it delicately handles the nuances of the battles between the Noughts and Crosses elevating the struggle beyond a race war and instead looks at race through a lens that feels all too current— Noughts + Crosses succeeds when highlighting the best and worst of both worlds and proving that even in the most tumultuous of times, true change is truly possible and that true love is never as purely simple as black and white.
In later episodes, be on the lookout for British grime star Stormzy as Kolawale —a freedom fighter caught in the fray of the Noughts and Crosses battle.