American fans of British soap operas “EastEnders” and “Coronation Street” are cheering the introduction of new Black characters on both series — each with substantial storylines.
Viewers of “EastEnders” have enjoyed seeing the Trueman family for decades on the show, headed by esteemed actor Rudolph Walker as Patrick. With the recent introduction of child actress Kara-Leah Fernandes, as an extension of the Taylor-Baker household, the show according to viewers has begun to reflect the demographics of larger London.
“I’ve been a pretty loyal viewer of ‘EastEnders’ since I was a kid, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen this much diversity of characters and of storylines for them before,” said Robin Laverty, a Northeast resident. “This new wave of characters between ‘EastEnders’ and [‘Coronation Street’] feels like its more representative of what my home looks like.”
Laverty, who grew up in Leeds, UK, about four hours north of London, said she watches current episodes of both shows through a Britbox streaming subscription which allows her to view daily episodes as they air. She said she was a little surprised by the news that “Coronation Street” was adding its first Black family in the show’s 59-year history — mostly because she’s recalled several families there before.
“There have certainly been Black characters on the show all along — I can think of several who came before the Bailey family, including Lloyd, who was a great addition to the cobbles,” Laverty said. “I think the media got a hold of the information and reworked it into this big hoopla.”
“Coronation Street” producer Iain MacLeod told The Guardian, that while individual Black characters may have joined the cobbles — with their family members appearing later, this represents the first time an entire family entered together. This is a practice, not uncommon for most of the characters on the show, however, including the Connors and Donovans.
“In the past, new families come in one at a time. I find that a harder way to do it, which is why they all turn up and you get this dynamic,” MacLeod said. “Manchester has a large proportion of Black residents, so it did feel sort of overdue when we did this and represented modern Manchester a bit more accurately.”
The Baileys, consisting of Edison (Trevor Michael Georges) and Aggie (Lorna Laidlaw), as well as their sons Michael (Ryan Russell) and James (Nathan Graham) joined the “Coronation Street” cast in June. A third child, daughter, Diana, has yet to be cast, but will join the show later in the year.
In casting 9-year-old Fernandes as Bailey Baker, “EastEnders” brought on a pint-sized dynamo whose first storyline showed her single-handedly caring for a terminal mother, while going to school and attempting to live a normal kid’s life. According to the Children’s Society, there are an estimated 700,000 young carers in the UK — kids as young as five, or teens who are the primary carer for a sick, incapacitated or addicted parent.
“This was a particularly difficult storyline to watch, but the young actress and her supporting cast did an amazing job bringing tenderness to such a difficult subject,” Ollie DeWitt, a Prince Georges County British soap fan, told The Informer. “For me, whether it’s ‘EastEnders’ or ‘Coronation Street,’ it is so important that these new neighbors have pivotal and important storylines that speak to the Black experience. I think we already get that in the scripts, so the addition of these new cast members can only make the shows that much better.”