I’m reading the new AQA texts so that you don’t have to! To see if, as with The Princess and the Hustler, these plays are well chosen and an insight into Black British identity…
Name: The Princess and the Hustler
Author: Chinoyerem Odimba
Did you know that AQA are updating their modern drama set texts for the GCSEs in 2025? The Princess and the Hustler is one of the proposed texts to add more diversity to a predominantly dead-white-men canon. And while we shouldn’t denounce all texts by dead-white-men, it’s so important that students see themselves represented in the texts that they study. As a literature student who recently did her GCSEs, I’m reading the new proposed texts so you don’t have to. To see if, as with this play, these texts are well chosen and an insight into Black British identity.
Check out my reviews of the other texts, Leave Taking and My Name Is Leon, here. The Princess and the Hustler is an excellent play and one students (such as myself!) will love. Here’s why.
The Princess and the Hustler appears, at least on a surface level, to be light and engaging. It is incredibly fun – it follows a cheeky girl called Princess who wants to be in the Weston-super-Mare beauty pageant. It also follows her family living in Bristol at the time of the Bristol Bus Boycotts. Princess made me laugh aloud multiple times, and I can see her dancing and the music translating super well to the stage.
However, underneath the lightness, there are also strong underlying messages in The Princess and the Hustler. The bonds between family members are poignant and well written, such as the father-son relationship between Wendell and Wendell Junior. Chinoyerem Odimba expertly gives each character’s point of view while keeping the focus on Princess; I was rooting for Wendell Junior throughout the play.
The play uncovered Black British history for me – have you heard of the Bristol Bus Boycotts? I had never even heard that Bristol Bus Services refused to hire Black drivers in the 1960s. This highlights the importance of these new plays for educating students on Black British identity.
Margot was a really interesting character: a white friend of Princess’ parents with opposing views to the bus boycotts. However she wasn’t a strictly unlikeable character, she was nuanced and complex.
‘My name is Phyllis Princess James.– THE PRINCESS AND THE HUSTLER
I will wear this crown every day.
I will never take it off even when I am asleep.’
Lorna was also a very interesting character and placed in contrast to Princess in many scenes, as her mixed-race half-sister. She is a product of her surroundings but still says damaging things to Princess. Should Mavis and Wendell have reacted differently to the school children bullying Princess and not Lorna?
As for my favorite part? I loved the celebration of Black beauty through the symbol of the Weston-super-Mare Beauty Contest. I believe students will resonate with Princess’ empowerment at the end of the play. However, it’s interesting that the Weston-super-Mare Beauty Contest is the focus of Princess’ character development. Where is the line between the outdated idea that beauty is the source of a woman’s value against challenging racial prejudice on beauty standards?
However, overall, The Princess and the Hustler is an incredibly fun play with serious themes running throughout. Students (such as myself!) are sure to love the humor and characters whilst being educated on Black British History.
What do you think about AQA adding plays with more diverse authors and characters to their set texts? Let me know in the comments.
While the diversity in my book recommendations isn’t perfect, I’m always trying to read books about challenging subjects. The Princess and the Hustler can be read by anyone, however I mostly read YA and feel more confident recommending it. Young adult books I’d recommend that tackle racism include:
- Pet by Awaeke Emezi
- Lies We Tell Ourselves by Robin Talley
- Ace Of Spades by Faridah Àbíké-Íyímídé
- The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
- Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds
- Noughts And Crosses by Malorie Blackman
- Yes No Maybe So by Becky Albertalli and Aisha Saeed
- Dear Martin by Nic Stone
- You Should See Me In A Crown by Leah Johnson
- A Very Large Expanse Of Sea by Tahereh Mafi
- Hani and Ishu’s Guide To Fake Dating by Adiba Jaigirdar
- Girl, Woman, Other by Bernadine Evaristo (adult, not YA)
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