Top Boy - Series 1, Episode 1 of ‘Top Boy’ 2011 (4oD, available on Youtube).
Top Boy is a British television drama series that was first broadcast on Channel 4. Season 1
was broadcast over consecutive nights, from 31 October to 3 November 2011. Set on the
fictional Summerhouse housing estate in Hackney, the series follows the lives of a group of
people involved in drug dealing and street gangs.
The series follows the plight of Ra'nell as he navigates the pitfalls of living in a crime filled
area after his mother, Lisa, is committed to a mental hospital. The story also follows the rise
of a local drug dealer, Dushane, and the tough decisions he must make to stay alive and in
business. The characters are multi-dimensional and complex; they aren’t just drug dealers,
they are orphans, parents, abuse victims, business owners, etc. The writers of the show
paint these characters as human as possible, making it hard for us, the viewers, to
completely demonise them because they are relatable.
Technical/visual in episode 1: Establishing crane shot, showing where these characters are
growing up (Hackney, London). The council estate informs the audience there are many
people crammed into one space, connoting poverty.
The location helps to inform the genre - gritty urban realism.
This analysis also reinforces Alvarado’s Theory of dangerous/pitied (1987). The characters
are victims of their environment. In “Top Boy (2011)”, Dushane and Sully represent black
people to be ’dangerous’ as they are associated with gangs, violence and drug-use. But,
Ra’nell represents the ‘pity’ category as he is left to provide for himself as his mother is
taken into a mental hospital.
This further reinforces Dyers (1992) utopia of intensity, audiences are unlikely to have guns
pointed in their faces and this text gives them the intensity missing from their everyday
lives. The iconography of the gun connoting danger/death/violence/power is further
reinforced by the character looking down the barrel of it, this not only reinforces the guns
iconographic signifiers but also Alvarado’s Theory of the dangerous (1987) and Earp and
Katz’s (1999) theory of violent males.
Audience Reaction to Top Boy:
Channel 4’s Top Boy slammed for reinforcing hood stereotypes http://www.voice-
Viewers complain BAFTA-nominated drama does not offer a different narrative about the
black experience in Britain.
“There is a problem with the lack of variety of films and TV shows depicting the lives of black
people in Britain. When you see ethnic minorities portrayed on TV what do you see? Do you
see them in positive or negative light? It is usually negative.
"This reinforces false perceptions and stereotypes and limits the opportunity to have
different stories. The result is that this is how some people will view black people and
expect us to behave.”