Spoilers ahead. In a week where a reality TV favourite finally addressed its known colourism problem, Netflix UK dropped The Strays (February 22) a psychological thriller that draws from the uniquely destructive nature of colourism, and the dark-skinned Black women it’s weaponed against. Racism as the ultimate horror movie villain — the malignant threat we can’t always see but can certainly feel — has become an expected canon of the Black horror genre, (Jordan Peele’s record-breaking Get Out, Lovecraft Country, Amazon Prime’s Nanny). Netflix UK’s The Strays follows in a similar chilling narrative, yet this time forces us into another uncomfortable territory: the subject of light-skinned privilege. Directed by Black British writer and actor Nathaniel Martello-White, The Strays follows one light-skinned Black British woman’s desperate attempts to assimilate with whiteness — bad wigs et al — with devastating consequences.
The Strays begins in London 2002 amongst a backdrop of high-rise flats and Cheryl (Ashley Madekwe) is at her wit’s end; backed into a corner by systemic racism, financial instability, and an abusive relationship. She leaves her current life — and everyone in it — behind. She returns, decades later, as new and improved ‘Neve’ with a “posh” English accent, clothes straight from Meghan Markle’s pre-Megxit wardrobe, and a closet full of wigs. She has fully ingratiated herself into an all-white world, with a rich white husband and two mixed-raced children who attend the private school where she works as the deputy headteacher. In her new life, she’s accepted and revered — or so she likes to believe. Neve is as delusional as she is dedicated to her ability to cosplay as a rich white woman, practising her affected accent in the mirror each morning.
The Strays highlights the lesser-discussed ‘British dream’ which romanticises the belief that through simple meritocracy, everyone can change their social standing regardless of race or social class through hard work. Neve does not believe this. She’s fully aware how a proximity to whiteness can increase chances of achieving a very specific version of British success…
Neve believes she’s successful because she has managed to transcend class, and while she says she’s “proud” to be Black, acts as if she has, somehow, transcended her race too. Much like the iconised American dream, The Strays highlights the lesser-discussed ‘British dream’ which also romanticises the belief that through simple meritocracy, everyone can change …read more