Blacks Can’t Swim: Rewind review – a deep dive back into troubled waters

·2 min read

Statistics from Sport England show that 95% of Black adults and 80% of Black children in England don’t swim. People from ethnic minorities are at an increased risk of drowning according to the WHO. Now comes this documentary produced by Ed Accura of the Black Swimming Association, number three in his Blacks Can’t Swim series. His last film interviewed 16- to 24-year-olds; here it’s parents talking about their relationship with the water and how it’s affected their kids.

Some of the speakers grew up with racist stereotypes about swimming – told as children that Black people have denser bones, making it harder to float. One woman explains how her swimming teachers drilled it into her that Black people are not built for swimming. She believed them because when she watched swimming at the Olympics on TV, where were the Black faces? That lack of representation at the elite level is still an issue, believes one talented young athlete, interviewed with his parents; he chose football over swimming. Women talk about their hair and swimming – chlorine damage is something that Great Britain’s only elite Black swimmer Alice Dearing wrote about in a piece on gal-dem. As an adult learner myself I winced in recognition at a couple of the anecdotes here about learning to swim as a grownup, six-year-olds zooming past as you struggle with a front crawl.

At the heart of the film are two dramatised stories, with very likable performances by Javell Grant and Tyra Ifill as 15-year-old Londoners facing swimming dilemmas. Tyra has been training to become an elite swimmer, but decides to quit. Javell wants to join the marines but can’t swim – a requirement for enlisting. The acting is all non-professional and in places has that stilted, slightly artificial feel. But these sections do feature some truly excellent teen-speak. Here’s Javell’s mate on hearing he wants to be a marine: “Are you discombobulated, man? You think you’re a salmon flopping about in the ocean?”

• Blacks Can’t Swim: Rewind is released on 4 July on digital platforms.

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