My Name is Leon – Institutional racism through a child’s eyes

One-off drama, ‘My Name is Leon’, is an adaptation of Kit de Waal’s novel of the same name, staring Malachi Kirby, Monica Dolan, Christopher Eccleston, and newcomer Cole Martin playing Leon, alongside Sir Lenny Henry who is also the executive producer of the film, after having fallen in love with the book.

“I was halfway through recording the audiobook for ‘My Name Is Leon’ when I realised, I was in love. Kit de Waal’s peerless narrative had me entranced from the beginning and didn’t let me go until the final sentence. Shola’s adaptation does the story great justice.” – Sir Lenny Henry (Executive Producer)

The film adapted by Shola Amoo, is set in 1980’s, against a backdrop of the Birmingham race riots where frustrations over police brutality and institutional racism had risen to a head. It follows a 9 year old mixed-race boy named Leon who is forced to grow up quickly as he learns to take care his baby half-bother Jake, after his mother increasingly becomes less capable of doing so due to her poor mental health, addictions and lack of support.

After their mother’s breakdown, both children are placed into the care system, as a White baby, Jake is adopted soon after but as a mixed-race nine-year-old, Leon future is less certain, and he is placed into foster care.

The film takes us on Leon’s journey fighting to reunite his family, whilst navigating an uncertain world, trying to understand his place society and gaining a sense of identity. He is supported by members of the local Caribbean community, particularly his surrogate father and protester Tufty, played by Malachi Kirby, who teaches him about the importance of standing up against injustice and prepares him for the challenges he’s bound to come up against in later life.

“That relationship on screen, Tufty and Leon, but also Malachi and Cole, who played Leon, was just unbelievably beautiful to watch and direct the two of them together. And it also shows you the lack of that on telly, or in theatre – a black man, a father figure, and a young black boy, shown positively. It just blows me away.” – Lynette Linton (Director)

Institutional racism is a prominent theme of the film, from the care system to the police, through the eyes of a child and the story was influenced by De Waal’s own experiences of foster care.

“I was brought up like that, I’m mixed race, I have adopted children, I’ve trained social workers…In 1981 I was living in Handsworth in Birmingham, where the riots were happening at the end of my road.”

‘My Name is Leon’ airs on BBC Two on Friday 10th June at 9pm.

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