There was plenty of controversy surrounding the release of this film. After a mass brawl broke out at a Birmingham cinema, Vue and Showcase cinemas decided to stop showing it. This decision was widely criticised for many reasons and eventually reversed. The decision to pull the film was described as dangerous and racist. Dangerous because the film would be seen as taboo. This would change the way that people engaged with it and the message at its core. At the same time, the decision was viewed as racist. The idea that a film showing gang violence would definitely push young people into mass violence was only strengthening the link between Black communities and uncontrollable violence. Especially as the film wasn’t actually as violent as other entertainment that’s widely available. Whatever the reasoning, it did just look like another attempt to diminish the release of non-white films. Even when they are made, they were being pulled at the slightest provocation. To compare, nothing was pulled from screens when a white dude killed 12 people and injured 70 other when he brought a gun into a screening of The Dark Knight Rises. So, why was this incident so different?
Ever since the death of George Floyd earlier this month, I’ve seen plenty of British people describe the UK as “the least racist country” in the world. They smugly sit there trying to tell people that we’re all good. Yet, we’re also a country that vilifies a film because a group of youths had a fight. Young people don’t just start fighting because of a film. In the same way that young people didn’t start singing and dancing at school when High School Musical came out. Subduing future non-white films is the only real outcome of that narrative. Not only will it discourage people from watching it but it will add to the idea that there is no real audience for films made by Black people. Which, frankly, is nonsense.
Blue Story is the kind of film that we should be championing. It is a British film written and directed by Rapman, or Andrew Onwubolu. Rapman is a rapper, producer, actor, writer and director South London. The film is based on his 2014 YouTube series of the same name, which is also based on true events. It takes inspiration from Rapman’s own upbringing in Lewisham and his experience of being sent to a school in Peckham. Meaning he was forced to cross the gang borders affiliated with the Peckham Boys and the Ghetto Boys. It’s a very personal story for Rapman, which is why he continually pops up throughout the film to rap about the events on-screen. It’s a really original feature that not only adds interest but really helps move the story along.
What is that story? Timmy and Marco have been friends since they were young boys. They have each other’s back and will step into any fight to protect their friend. The only problem? They were born on different sides of the gang divide. Marco’s brother doesn’t trust Timmy and tries to come between the pair. When Marco is attacked by a rival gang, that includes a long-lost friend of Timmy’s, the pair are torn apart forever. A final violent incident not only keeps the former friends apart but puts them on opposite sides in the gang war. Will the friends be able to remember their past before it’s too late? Or will they end up as another police statistic for ‘black on black’ violence?
There are some fantastic things about Blue Story that do make it feel fresh and original. Rapman is clearly fully invested and brings his passion to the story. He understands this world and he manages to bring the humanity to the people at its core. You can see what gets young men into these situations until they are too far gone to come back. It doesn’t condone their behaviour but he also shows that they aren’t doing this because it’s just part of their nature. The problem is, there is also plenty about this film that feels so familiar. You have to ask, what makes this stand out from films like the Kidulthood series or Top Boy.
There is nothing wrong with this film but there’s just not enough new stuff there to make it really stand out. The overall message is poignant and strong. The cycle of gang warfare doesn’t help anybody and the consequences aren’t worth it. And it’s all presented in a very understated and very British way. This film had the backing of the BBC and Paramount but it’s a very unassuming thing. It gets to the heart of these places and embraces the language of South London. It might not be breaking down barriers but this is a film that speaks of a time and place. It’s an important film for many reasons and it’s exactly the kind of film that wouldn’t have been made 20 years ago. Okay, it’s not a great sign of progress but it’s something.