Layla McKinnon is about to get married. From an identity perspective, it is really quite convenient; her fiancé, Andy McKinnon, already has the same surname. But she’s mixed-race, he’s white, and – prodded on by her friend Laura – she does some research into their family trees. She finds that his family were slave owners, and her family came from that lineage of slaves… throwing her conviction, her love and her thoughts into turmoil, as she begins to examine the parallels between marriage and slavery in terms of one party being ‘owned’ by another.
Phoebe McIntosh plays Layla, and she is a fantastic actress. Her relationship with her grandfather is absolutely adorable, and McIntosh’s Jamaican accent is very convincing. I loved too how the narrative was bookended by Layla's job as a history teacher, providing a good segue into the family-tree investigation.
In conversations with Laura an important point emerges: how mixed-race people might sometimes just go along with their assumed race ‘because it affords them better social conventions’. Laura blames Layla for behaving like a ‘white’ person, but as fiancé Andy puts it, are they really to jeopardise their wedding because of the wrongs committed centuries ago? And Andy’s reactions are perfectly sane and rational; he is not trying to ‘own’ her, he does not condone slavery, he just wants to marry Layla.
At times the plot feels a bit of a stretch, but the creative liberties taken are just a means to an end. And at the end, Layla must unpick the layers of complexity that surround a person’s identity, to figure out what is important to her and who she really is. When she comes back to class at the end of the summer, she will still be Layla McKinnon – but will she be a Miss, or a Mrs?
There is a lot of dialogue surrounding Black Lives Matter right now. This show adds to and enriches it, by stretching its arms to encompass the centuries worth of abuse that black people have experienced. There is no escaping that baggage – and this show adds to the acknowledgement of that difficult fact.