Swim England

A nation swimming

Olivia hopes her Netflix film Black Stroke will inspire people to take up swimming

Filmmaker Olivia Smart hopes her new Netflix documentary will help black people overcome the ‘deep-seated fears’ which prevents them from learning how to swim.

Black Stroke aims to dispel the misinformation ‘ingrained’ within the community as it tells the story of three people’s eight-week learn to swim journey.

The 12-minute film will be broadcast on Netflix’s YouTube channel from Thursday 1 February.

Olivia was selected from thousands of applicants to Netflix’s Documentary Talent Fund to direct and produce Black Stroke.

It stars Maria, Aaron and Satema, who received expert tuition from qualified Swim England tutor Harley Hicks at the London Aquatic Centre.

All three were chosen by Olivia following an appeal for people who couldn’t swim on her Instagram page.

The film details the reason why they hadn’t learnt how to swim and what they now love about being active in the water. 

Olivia explained her motivation for wanting to create Black Stroke – and what she hopes the film will achieve.

She said: “There has long been a negative trope surrounding black people and their ability to swim – over the years they coined the phrase ‘black people can’t swim’ and some people within the community accepted it.

“This alongside misinformation that black people have heavier bones which impacted their inability to swim became ingrained within the culture and the inability to swim was accepted by many.

Incredibly important

“I felt compelled to understand where this deep-seated fear within the black community came from when it came to swimming. 

“I wanted to tell the stories of three individuals all with differing barriers of entry when it comes to learning to swim to inform and educate others about the black experience and I think this film does just that.

“Through making this documentary, I learnt that what connects us all is fear and if we find it in ourselves to overcome that, anything is possible.

“It was a real challenge for them to commit to swimming twice a week for eight weeks around full-time jobs but they did it and I am incredibly proud of what they have achieved.”

Maria suffers from sickle cell disease and Olivia hopes sharing her story will also help to save lives.

“It’s incredibly important to tell black stories and for people to understand the black experience,” said Olivia.

“Sickle cell inherently is a disease which predominantly impacts black people and to be able to bring that to a world stage and raise awareness to a chronically underfunded life-threatening disease is vital.

“If just one person from watching this film feels moved to donate blood or donate money to research, we have saved lives.”

Olivia, who is a keen swimmer herself, said members of the film crew were now keen to take lessons.

A place for all of us

She said: “Both my parents were active swimmers so it was a huge priority for me to learn to swim.

“I’ve always felt very comfortable in water and have appreciated the freedom that brings me. 

“Interestingly, a lot of of the team couldn’t actually swim so many were inspired to learn to swim off the back of making the film.

“I think the biggest barrier in learning to swim is that people think it’s going to take ages to learn. 

“With this film we proved with dedication, commitment and the right instructor, being water safe and comfortable in water can be achieved in eight weeks.”

Olivia said making Black Stroke had been extremely rewarding.

She added: “Watching the journey of the contributors learn to swim in eight weeks and hearing their subsequent stories is what this is all about.

“Maria booked a holiday straight after filming and for the first time swam in the ocean.

“I hope people will watch this and be inspired by the individuals in the film to take up swimming and learn a life-saving skill – and feel that swimming is a place for all of us, no matter the colour of our skin.”

Watch Black Stroke here

Click below to watch Black Stroke via the Netflix, Still Watching YouTube channel. 

Pictures: Etim Essien