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Dreaming Whilst Black Challenges Black Success and an Industry of White Fragility

BAFTA winner Adjani Salmon brings his clever comedy to Showtime.
  • Dani Moseley, Adjani Salmon, and Babirye Bukilwa in Dreaming Whilst Black (Photo: Showtime)
    Dani Moseley, Adjani Salmon, and Babirye Bukilwa in Dreaming Whilst Black (Photo: Showtime)

    In the Showtime adaptation of his webseries Dreaming Whilst Black, co-creator Adjani Salmon reminds us that the only way to make it in this world as a Black person is to laugh. Salmon, who won the 2022 BAFTA for Emerging Talent: Fiction and Screen International Star of Tomorrow, takes on the role of Kwabena, a man aspiring to be the U.K’s version of Spike Lee. Working in recruitment by day and writing by night, he spends the six-episode series trying to balance his personal life, which is in disarray, with moving the needle on his professional life.

    For much of Dreaming Whilst Black, Kwabena’s dream of being a filmmaker seems so close at hand. Though he has one friend who is also working her way up in media and another who actually works for a production company, things never seem to be just right for Kwabena to get his foot through the door. On top of that, he’s flat broke with no means to pay for his short film, living with his brother and taking on a lot of debt to impress the woman he likes. This, all while trying to make a name for himself in an industry that is full of people who couldn’t understand his lived experience if they tried.

    While the show acknowledges the obstacles that all creatives face, it really underscores the difficulties that Black creators specifically encounter, from the subtle microaggressions in their day-to-day interactions with their (white) peers, to the pressures that come from the Black family to invest in a career over a dream. Dreaming Whilst Black affirms the notion that the only way to succeed in entertainment is by taking big risks.

    The show’s most effective humor doesn’t just lie in the moments of casual and blatant racism, but in an incisive and accurate send-up of how seriously the entertainment industry takes itself, and the way it’s filled with rich, white, upper-middle-class people who couldn’t care less about the Black struggle. At times, some viewers may find themselves asking “Should I be laughing at this?” But this is just the creator’s way of showing how foolish racism and white supremacy are, how insidious they are to the human experience.

    In addition to highlighting the complexities to be found in the intersections of gender and race, the show also dedicates plenty of time to Kwabena’s life outside of the “hustle.” These softer moments explore the fear of failure that Black men often carry along with their identity, relationships, and careers. It also illuminates a topic that we rarely get to see on television: how Black men emote when under pressure.

    We see this theme in Kwabena’s beautiful kinship with his brother Maurice (Demmy Ladipo). They share an intimate moment together when Maurice goes into detail about his fear of fatherhood, and it’s revealed that they’re both scared of being deemed failures by their family. This is a powerful moment that outlines the sense that many Black men carry around of “not being good enough,” and how society feeds into that feeling with both micro- and macroaggressions.

    But Dreaming Whilst Black also speaks to the experiences of Black women. Kwabena’s best friend Amy (Dani Moseley) deals with almost the same exact problems in her own quest for entertainment success. As she’s overlooked for a promotion or endures a white co-worker's subtle jabs about her hair (something that almost everyone does to Kwabena throughout the series), it’s impossible not to laugh at how outrageous the plot point of internal bias is.

    Dreaming Whilst Black’s greatest feat is the way it bridges the gaps between the Black experience in the U.K. and the Black experience in the U.S., showing that they’re not quite so different, especially when it comes to having a dream. And while the show jumps back and forth between day-dreaming and reality, it makes it very clear that dreaming while Black is, in fact, hard. So much so that it becomes the thing that Kwabena struggles with throughout most of the series, along with code-switching and the ways that Black creators are often expected to create from a place of pain. He’s challenged to write something with more “grit,” and is eventually torn between standing behind the script he wrote about two lovers in the Windrush era or one about someone who has been locked up for selling drugs.

    But this is not a show centered on a Black man navigating the fear of “selling out.” That interpretation sells Salmon’s creativity short, along with the greater message of the show. Dreaming Whilst Black offers commentary on the barriers that Black creatives face and the hurdles that they encounter when they want to step away from tradition. It provides a toolkit for Hollywood executives who are trying to understand the dreams that so many are trying to make a reality.

    Dreaming Whilst Black premieres Friday, September 8 on Paramount+ with Showtime before premiering on Showtime on Sunday, September 10 at 10:00 PM ET.

    Jonathan P. Higgins is a freelance writer who has been published at sites including Essence, Ebony, and Out Magazine, in addition to winning season 5 of Nailed It. You can follow them online by using the handle @DoctorJonPaul. 

    TOPICS: Dreaming Whilst Black, Paramount+, Showtime, Adjani Salmon