Don’t Filter Feelings Podcast reflects on unconscious racial bias

In the latest Don’t Filter Feelings Podcast episode, Hollyoaks cast members Richard Blackwood (Felix Westwood), Andrea Ali (Celeste Deveraux) and writer Karla Marie Sweet talk openly with broadcaster and host Yinka Bokini about the effect unconscious racial bias has had on their lives.

“If you react to every single minor aggression you will spend your day arguing and you won’t get anything done and it becomes part and parcel of life and I think that’s why this series of episodes is so good because it shows just how exhausting it is to go through the world when at every turn…there is something that reminds you that you are Other.” – Yinka Bokini

Richard and Andrea discuss how this personal experience goes toward informing the way they portray their characters in the show, and likewise Karla discusses how her lived experience feeds into and shapes her creative choices as one of the show’s writers.

This Don’t Filter Feelings podcast episode is designed as a companion piece to a special Hollyoaks episode set to air tomorrow, April 14th on E4 –  and April 15th on Channel 4 of course. It captures an entire day from the perspective of Martine – played by Kelle Bryan – the Black matriarch of the Deveraux family, as she faces a serious health issue after finding a breast lump.

In the same 24 hours her love-rival Grace – Tamara Wall – also needs medical attention. As we follow the experiences of the two women that day, Martine’s struggles as a Black woman filter through in a range of encounters – highlighting microaggressions towards her as we see Grace’s alternative experience from a White woman’s shoes.

Andrea Ali – who plays Martine’s daughter Celeste tells the Podcast: ‘It was done in a way which was so raw and literally so accurate….I think it will cause people to stop and look at themselves, to look at the environments they’ve been in …

“I think people go….’it’s either racist or it’s not. But then there’s a space that sits between which are the microaggressions, which are the experiences of Black people as a whole feel.

‘It was articulated so well that you have no choice to look at that and go…I have to now think about whether or not ‘I’ have ever been in a situation where I have been unconsciously-biased towards someone because its highlighted so blatantly in these episodes. And it’s so powerful.’

The episode begins with Martine waking up feeling anxious about her hospital appointment, leading to her being late for an interview and suffering a series of humiliating microaggressions from strangers she meets along the way. It also examines her ex-husband Felix’s differing reaction to Martine and Grace’s health concerns.

Later at the hospital, where stressed nurse Peri Lomax (Ruby O’Donnell) is struggling with her shift and trying to hide her inexperience from Misbah Maalik (Harvey Virdi), yet another hurtful incident occurs, leading into episodes that delve further into exploring unconscious bias through the lens of race and gender.

Referring to a scene in which Martine is accused of being ‘aggressive’ in her tone, writer Karla, tells the Podcast:  ‘There are all these stereotypes that are ingrained in our culture, that so many of us, particularly Black women, who feel a lot of the time that we can’t speak up about things….and so we are constantly having to check ourselves and having to prove ourselves and that is the day to day reality. And so the reason we have this episode, taking Martine through her day – is to send that message home.’

Richard Blackwood – whose character Felix is torn between his ex Martine and new flame Grace, revealed that filming the episodes brought a new perspective as a Black man.

“It’s really weird because of all of those micros (aggressions) that were shown, I’ve been through, but in the previous ten years it wasn’t micro it was just in your face. So it’s nice that Karla could teach me the new way that people are showing their racism”

“But one of the things that did stand out to me was I’m guilty of calling Black women ‘strong Black queens’ and I always use it as a term of endearment – because a strong part of me knows that struggles of a Black woman, vicariously through my mum and sister and family – but when Kelle’s character says ‘why do I always have to be that character?’….when I watched it back it made me go ‘wow’. I’ve never stopped to think what that pressure might feel like.”

Richard goes on to say that he felt he was implying by those comments that women are not allowed to show vulnerability’. He adds,

“[I was implying by using the term strong Black queens] You are not allowed to say a situation has hurt or troubled you because it doesn’t adhere to being a strong Black woman…I never thought that as a Black man I was already contributing to the pressures that a Black woman, or woman of colour was having to face.’

The podcast can be heard here. Hollyoaks airs with a first-look episode weeknights at 7pm with the repeat on Channel 4 the following weekday at 6.30pm

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