Ashley Walters says ‘it would have been ideal’ if Top Boy was written by Black writer

Ashley Walters has admitted that “it would have been ideal” for Top Boy to have been written by a Black writer.

Walters stars opposite Kane “Kano” Robinson in the British crime drama about two gang kingpins trying to be the dominant local “top boys” on their Hackney estate.

The show, which first aired on Channel 4 before being picked up by Netflix, was created by Irish novelist Ronan Bennett. Bennett, who is white, was born in Belfast and later moved to Hackney.

In a new interview with The Times, Walters, 41, was asked if Top Boy – which features a majority Black cast – could be accused of “cultural voyeurism” with Bennett at the helm.

“Let me be frank,” the rapper said. “It would have been ideal for Black people’s stories to have been told by a Black person. So I did scrutinise Ronan. But understanding the people he consulted for the script was key.”

Walters added that, while “may not be great for Ronan”, the show had been “huge for people like me”.

“I was one of the few Black actors allowed on TV before this wave of diversity, so seeing Black writers being championed feels amazing. Yet it’s a fight. It’s always a fight.”

Bennett grew up in Northern Ireland amid the Troubles and in 1974 was detained for a year after being convicted of shooting a police officer. The conviction was later overturned.

Walters with Little Simz in ‘Top Boy' (Ali Painter/Netflix)
Walters with Little Simz in ‘Top Boy' (Ali Painter/Netflix)

The writer behind novels The Second Prison and Overthrown by Strangers later moved to Hackney with his wife and two children. There, he conceived of Top Boy after seeing a twelve-year-old boy dealing drugs at his local Tesco.

The series first aired on Channel 4 in 2011, running for two four-episode seasons that concluded in 2013.

The show was cancelled due to budget restraints at the UK network but was revived by Netflix in 2019 following interest from Canadian musician Drake. The rapper serves as an executive producer on Netflix’s version of the show.

You can read The Independent’s review of Top Boy season five, which stars new cast members Barry Keoghan and Brian Gleeson, here.

Top Boy season five is on Netflix now.