'Noughts + Crosses' star Bonnie Mbuli says it was empowering to be on a set where she could be herself

The new BBC series, Noughts + Crosses, goes where no other show has gone before. It imagines a world where white people are oppressed.

It is based on the novel by Malorie Blackman set in an alternate history where black 'Cross' people rule over white 'Noughts.'

Against a backdrop of prejudice, and rebellion, two childhood friends Sephy (a Cross) and Callum (a Nought) must fight for more than just the right to be together.

The series was filmed in Cape Town and stars a host of local talent, including Bonnie Mbuli and newcomer Masali Baduza who plays the lead, Sephy.

Bonnie plays Jasmine Hadley, the wife of the home secretary Kamal Hadley (Paterson Joseph) and Sephy's mom.

"She is a fun, loving character who at first is sad and torn and in a tumultuous relationship with her husband. And then, we see her become strong and make better choices throughout the series," says Bonnie during a telephone interview.

About the dystopian world the series is set in Bonnie says it's similar to apartheid in many ways, as the Crosses, the minority, oppresses the Noughts, who are the majority.

On the series, she says, "I think Noughts + Crosses apart from being a love story it's a story that calls humanity to pay a bit more attention to the world around us.

"I don't think it's pointing fingers. It's just saying look at the experience that other people have had their whole lives. And can you imagine what it must be like to live like that? It calls one to be a little bit more sensitive to people around them. And to understand what privilege is and how it works for you."

The world of Noughts + Crosses is African, as it borrows from the aesthetic of African culture.

"Fabrics, patterns, colours. It's a very rich colourful, vibrant world," explains Bonnie.

Working on the series was a novel experience for the 39-year-old.

It was empowering for her, as a black actress, to be on a set where she didn't have to change who she is.

"How I looked was just what they wanted. All the black actors literally had natural hair, down to every single last extra. I guess for me it just made me realise how much the beauty standard that's being forced upon the world is so prevalent and has become so prevalent. We don't even think about it anymore.

"You go through your career, having to change yourself, suddenly you walk onto a set, and they like 'go back to the thing you really are'. I think it was empowering for everyone."


The show's premise is bold and unlike anything we've seen on television before.

Bonnie admits that she was nervous about how the show would be received and whether people would be open to just listening and hearing.

"I signed on to do the show because it's an important story. I wish that Noughts + Crosses was a book in our school the same way it is in the UK.

"My 10-year-old is reading it now. He comes home from school and asks questions about race and class that I struggle to answer without burdening him with the realities of the world. I've gotten him to read the book, and he loves it. And it's explaining the world to him in a way that is palatable for him.

"I wanted to do it because it was an important story to tell. And I think it will be one of TV's most life-changing moments."

Masali Baduza and Jack Rowan in 'Noughts + Crosses

(FORBIDDEN LOVE: Masali Baduza and Jack Rowan play star-crossed lovers Sephy and Callum. Photo: Showmax)

With themes of racism, class, and war -  which is still very relevant - the series will stir up a meaningful conversation.

In terms of the South African landscape, the topics are very relevant.

"I think South Africans, whenever things get racially charged, we get so emotional," says Bonnie.

"I feel like we are then unable to get to the point of conversation where we are understanding and hearing each other. When we get emotional, we start to talk past each other, and we get triggered because some of us have lived this, we might have seen our grandmothers live it.

"It's part and parcel of our history, it's in the tapestry of all of our social fibre, it's really sometimes too emotional for us to engage in. I think that a show like Noughts + Crosses says, 'Okay, sit down, we're going to tell your story. You don't have to, answer anything. Nobody's pointing the finger at you. Why don't you watch and be entertained. But while you're being entertained, we're going to ask some difficult questions.'"

On what she hopes viewers take away from the series Bonnie says compassion.

"I hope that viewers try to be compassionate to people around them. That they start to try to understand that if you are a position of privilege, you know, you can use it in a more responsible way. And that you can live more consciously."


Noughts + Crosses premieres on Thursday, 12 March at 22:00 on M-Net (DStv 101) and Showmax