Listening with Snowfall (2017)
Updated: Jan 17, 2022
So, I loved watching television growing up, and although I thought the amount of love I had for TV was a regular amount for a kid to have, the rest of my family made it seem like that was not the case. I cared more about the stories and characters than my sisters did at least, and watched my favourite shows with a vigour that earned me the nickname “Cartoon Network” from my family (yes, they literally just called me the network).
As I got older, I realised that these shows and movies I was watching were educating me about the world in a way that I would not otherwise learn about it. This fascinated me because I grew up in a Nigerian culture where to be a good student, I was to “read my books” and where watching too much television was seen as unserious. I became so intrigued by the idea that TV shows- specifically works of fiction- served more than just entertainment purposes that I would eventually base my Masters Thesis research project on that idea. One of my favourite things to do now is to figure out ways culture is reflected in works of fiction, and I personally think that TV shows and movies are legitimate tools for the anthropological study of humans. I find that I have more empathy towards people who have different life experiences to mine because I got to see theirs play out on screen, to some degree at least, and because of this, and because I’m big on being a ‘global citizen’, I encourage everyone to diversify what they watch.
I’m saying all that because I also want to tell you to check Snowfall out, if you haven’t already. I only discovered this show about a month ago through a weird series of events, but I’m so glad I did.
Snowfall, created by the legend that is John Singleton (writer and director of Boyz n the Hood), is set in 1983 Los Angeles and basically recounts the start of the crack cocaine epidemic, detailing the impact the introduction of this drug has on the community. Snowfall‘s ensemble cast is absolutely incredible, each person holding it down on screen to the point that my favourite character is whoever is in front of me at the moment, but its main character is Franklin Saint (played by actual ray of sunshine and self-proclaimed “CEO of the DSS: Dark Skin Society”, Damson Idris), a kid who introduces the drug to his community and becomes the brains behind this operation that he brings his family and friends into. On the other side of the epidemic is undercover CIA Agent, Teddy McDonald (played by the brilliant Carter Hudson) who is supplying the drugs to these communities to fund a war happening in Nicaragua. Although the show is fictional, it is set in the middle of a phenomenon that actually took place. In many ways, Snowfall serves as a history lesson, one that is particularly interesting for this Nigerian girl who now is in the West.
More than that though, Snowfall shows you that there were (and are) actual people caught in the middle of this epidemic and its repercussions.
I’ve heard a few of the actors say they gained empathy for loved ones who had problems with addiction because of their time on the show, and for the characters they play as they work through the different situations they are placed in. And that’s true even for the viewer, seeing the stark contrast between how the community looks at the beginning of Season 1 and how it looks when we leave it in Season 4, the breakdown of community and family that happens right before our eyes; how we find ourselves rooting for these characters even though they are all dodgy in their own ways. It’s hard for me not to think about the implications this had on gang culture (as the show depicts) and the influence of that (and many other things) on hip-hop. Think about how this plays into perceptions of African-American/black people and how that affects how we are treated- by colleagues, co-workers, people in authority. The classification of anything ‘black’ as inherently ‘violent’ or ‘aggressive’ even though when the origins of these perceptions are exposed we find that there are more people complicit in their creation than we are led to believe. I’ve been in spaces where hip-hop has been dismissed as ‘not real music’ and where a rap song coming on- even Christian rap- is met immediately with “why are you listening to this?” I’m not saying we have to agree with everything we see and hear everywhere, but I do think we should be more eager to do what that question asks: listen.
Something that’s amazing about globalisation, in my opinion, is that we get to hear about lives other than our own. And something I can appreciate about Hollywood giving microphones to different voices as someone who grew up in Nigeria but was still within its reach, is that now I’m not force-fed one view but get to learn about others while seeing people who are different to me learn about mine. There’s still the conversation about what is mainstream and what you have to fight to find (again, I literally had no idea this show existed until last month) but it is really encouraging to see that we’re moving into a time where we want to hear each other out. Hopefully that happens authentically in a way that doesn’t just allow us gain knowledge, but that moves our hearts for one another.
If we’re looking for true unity, that’s where we’ll find it.
Snowfall airs on FX and is currently streaming on Hulu. If you’re in Canada, it is available to buy or rent on YouTube.