Are you a fan of Riches? Well, Netflix‘s new Black British series, Champion, may be for you– and it is the best series on the streamer that you’re probably not watching right now. Airing last year on BBC Three across the bond, the streamer has now premiered the show for stateside audiences.
Series creator Candice Carty-Williams has taken her passion for music and turned it into a love letter to her home in London.
“I love music. I’ve always loved music, with all my heart. I listen to it like 24 hours a day and so it was that,” she said in an recent interview with Blavity’s Shadow and Act.
After adapting her best-selling novel, Queenie, for television (coming to the U.S. on Hulu via Disney’s Onyx Collective later this year), the hit author partnered with New Pictures and Balloon Entertainment for the eight-episode Champion. The series revolves around a Jamaican British family, namely two siblings, and their journey within the music industry– one journey that has just begun and another which is restarting. The show follows their family, relationships and dealings within the business, as well as the fierce rivalry and love they share with one another.
The two lead roles, Vita Champion and Bosco Champion, are played by Déja J Bowens and Malcolm Kamulete.
Ray Fearon, Nadine Marshall and Kerim Hassan are series regulars, as well as British singer-songwriter Ray BLK, who is also a music executive on the soundtrack.
“I think that the South London music scene kind of blurs into the London music scene,” Carty-Williams added. “There is always an ongoing debate about where grime started, and I never want to get involved in that because that preceded me timewise. I don’t want to say something where people are like ‘You don’t know what you’re talking about,’ so in terms of [myself], I think for me, because I grew up in South London, I need a sense of place and a sense of pride. So for me, Bosco and Vita are very proud to be from South London in their work and their lives.”
As someone with Jamaican roots, Carty-Williams admits that it is imperative for the characters she creates to serve as extensions of her.
“I would say that I’m Jamaican, but I’m from South London first,” she said. “And I guess those are my characters, they just end up being extensions of you, right? “They all come from a place in my brain so they all kind of will have to know a little bit of what I know. The Champions are very proud South Londoners like myself.”
Carty-Williams’ decision to center the story around the nuances of familial relationships was intentional because she believes “family is where everything starts from for all of us.”
“I used to watch films and TV shows and be like, ‘Where are you people’s parents?’ Like, where did they come from? Because I know that I am a product of my parents,” she said. “My parents are very different people. Wildly different people. I have no idea how they met and what they spoke about. I just know that because of them, I am me because of all the bits of them. When it came to the Champion family and knowing who I wanted them to be, Bosco and Vita, who are my first two characters, them being siblings kind of mattered because I think that with your siblings they’re the people you can hate with everything you’ve got, but you’re tied to them forever, pretty much, if you choose to.”
For her, the idea that siblings can come from the same people, but be extremely different individuals, was a key theme she wanted to explore within the show.
“They were very easy and very fun to write,” said Carty-Williams of Bosco and Vita. While music brings the pair together, it is also the very thing that threatens the relationship between the brother and sister throughout the series.
After living in her sibling’s shadows, Vita leaps into discovering who she is and what she brings to the table for her vision and goals.
“Vita’s journey was a really interesting one for me to write because, obviously, she has this sort of astronomical fame and the only reason that she’s able to get that is because she kind of has to leave everyone behind,” Carty-Williams explained. “There’s people that she trusts and there is something in there about not always trusting people who are close to you. Her family are the ones who are meant to be supporting her, looking after her, and showing her kindness and they can’t do that because they are all each in their own way for whichever reason that we’re exploring in the show.”
As the stories of family, love, resilience, and more unfold within the narratives in Champion, Carty-Williams also spoke about what it added to her personally.
“I would say that my learning is never finished,” she said of the biggest lesson she walked away after developing the show. “I learned that not just through work, but also just with people because you go from sort of having a circle that you understand to suddenly becoming, especially if you’re like me and very hands-on and on sets every day, you end up having to talk to sometimes 100 people a day. And so you are always learning about people…about how they operate, about what happens with the cameras on them, but what happens when they’re off camera? I would say learning is never finished is the thing that I learned in both senses.”
Champion season 1 is now streaming on Netflix.
Reporting by Shanique Yates; Trey Mangum also contributed to this report.