Intelligent and thoughtful, Black Earth Rising digs deeper than the superficial to explore the effects of historic African colonialism, independence and tribal genocide on modern-day Rwanda. As militia leader Simon Nyamoya (Danny Sapani) faces trial in The Hague for war crimes, so the British prosecuting lawyer, Eve Ashby (Harriet Walter) makes a decision that has a profound affect on the lives of those around her.
But Black Earth Rising is no courtroom drama reliant on flashbacks and brilliant staged oration. Wholly unexpected developments early in the eight-part miniseries take the narrative in a very different direction.
The genocide of the minority Tutsi by the Hutu in 1994 remains the core, with Eve Ashby’s adoptive daughter, Kate (Michaela Coel), herself an orphaned Tutsi. Now a legal investigator for her mother’s firm, Kate is traumatised by memories (some prevalent, many long buried) of her past. Black Earth Rising is centred primarily around Kate as she delves, prods, exposes, endangers herself and those she comes into contact with – politicians, journalists, military, legal representatives in Africa, UK and France – in her quest to find truths. Boss Michael Ennis (John Goodman) is mentor and friend – but also represents American interests in a country that was once a French and a British colony. Little is what it seems as, with so much divided history, friends betray friends, family betrays family, countries betray countries both past and present.
It is for Rwandan minister Alice Munezero (Noma Dumezweni), herself a former general in the Rwandan Liberation Army, to look for answers, face the past and look to move forward, uniting the country of its divisive past.
Tough, determined but vulnerable, Michaela Coel shines in an excellently-written layered narrative. The series occasionally drifts away from its focus, losing itself in tangential storylines but, that caveat aside, Black Earth Rising remains powerful, engaging and accessible.