Friday, 27 May 2011

It's not just the Block

This is a revolution, ok, maybe not quite a revolution but a revolt nonetheless, and when one revolts the question is posed; “is you is or is you ain’t?”

Is you against this never ending cyclical barrage of stereotypical portrayals, these constant salvo of clich├ęd distasteful drama that do nothing for the enhancement of the community in which they claim to represent. Is you no longer prepared to sit and continue to watch as your friends, your family and more importantly your PEOPLE are tirelessly trivialised, done so many wrongs for the sake of entertaining the mass droid inhabitants of what we call the planet earth.

Now, the reason for this rather impromptu outburst comes from reading an article from a good friend of mine, one that I feel will gradually become a welcomed professional nemesis of mine as I’m sure this will not be the last time our paths cross in debate. Maybe one day he might become my Monty Kipps and I, Howard Belsey such as in Zadie Smith’s ‘On Beauty’, however this is a prospect I anticipate and readily prepare for.

His article ‘Defend the Block’ comments on a film that has recently hit the big screens of British cinema, I will refrain from giving this film more publicity than I have already done in this past few days and simply say I’m pretty sure you have come across it through its massive marketing campaign. Also, for the record I have not seen this film in focus nor do I plan to, I am a firm believer of ‘knowing your enemy’ but in this case I feel the enemy is moving one step ahead of me and is no longer playing fairly. The enemy is actually digging in deeper and finding new and I must concede more creative ways to infiltrate, corrupt and plant seeds of doom and failure in the young minds that will sadly use their limited EMA allowances, their mother’s underpaid work salaries to watch a false projection of their environment. What could be more detrimental is the fact that thousands and thousands of suburban white kids will also watch this, laugh at this, and go away believing these characters they see on the screen represents the Black guy they will see on the way home that evening, sitting across them on the last train back to Luton because although they were just rooting for him to help defend them from a greater evil on screen, but this is real life, and after all he can’t fight his instincts to flick that knife he has to procure the valuables in their bag.

My attack (excuse the pun) is not solely against the film, rather its ideology and the ideology many other films and television programmes like it carries, it strengthens negative stereotypes in a fashion that delves deep into the subconscious – film has this potential, in fact that is why I use it as one of the mediums to express myself because unlike any other form it has a way of communicating an idea or reinforcing beliefs. We, as a society have a way of responding to these ideas expressed in films because there is a sense of familiarity as we see real manifestation of us on television re-enacting real life situations with real life objects, psychologically this has a profound effect on us, this commands a greater and truer reaction from us than any other form of communication, we are instantly awoken and aware and at the very least accept the film’s truths regardless of how farfetched it may seem.

There is a danger with this, if Film has this potential and then continues to only highlight issues such as gang culture, fallen and misguided youths in the ‘Block’ then we are ultimately at loss, we will perpetuate what is in fact a miniscule of what life in the ‘Block’ is really about... what we’re constantly fed was not my truth when growing up nor is it the truth for many dwellers in London’s urban areas today, so why must we persist on enduring these barrages, and with our endurance somewhat faltering we start to accept these depictions and become increasingly desensitised to wrong and distasteful commentary.

"It's black!" "Blacker than black!" "So black you can't see!" "This thing is even blacker than my cousin Femi!" This is not comedy it’s racist! Regardless of taunting we all endured during adolescent school days, the sad fact is we were merely victims of decades multiplied by decades’ worth of institutions force feeding us these wrong ideas, to revel in and use this sad fact is really an act of racism.

Why are we so willing to accept the criminal activities of these youngsters on the big screens and not only this go on to then celebrate it as long as it means they protect us from greater impending danger?... Go on big strong black boys, fend off these aliens... go on big strong black men, go and fight this war on terror for us, and then when you get back, we will put you in Prison because you’re socially inept to readapt to social life or the years you’ve spent away hasn’t changed the fact that you still don’t have any viable working merit so we’ll just sit tight and wait for you to commit a desperate act to feed yourself and your family and that’s when we’ll come for you and take you away to prison. Am I the only one that sees this parallel?

I refuse to be deceived and consent to these tactics and ploys laid out by high authoritative forces, forces with hands weighing down on every urban youth by saturating their options with stupefied repetitive dialogue and structure and never allowing them to see something new and refreshing...something true.

I will conclude by addressing the issue of funding and the fact that many films such as these constantly get the required backing they need, this issue can never be irrelevant when interrogating a film because fundamentally the procurement of financial support is the catalyst for any major film to hit the mainstream. Unless you’re Spike Lee, who has proven countless of time that his film’s about the ‘Block’ such as Crooklyn and Do The Right Thing can be true and honest and sincere... and funny, without playing to the coonery boofoonery that is expected from films of this nature, it is virtually impossible to access any financial aid without playing to this requirement. If after all these years British directors such as Menelik Shabazz who is a prominent member of black film makers in the UK constantly gets overlooked or Patrice Etienne a young director who like many other young directors and film makers I know constantly get rejected by art institute because they refuse to engage in the coonery and boonfooney that these funding bodies obviously want to endorse then what hope do you as a community have if all you see is a constant dishonest reflection of you, what hope do you have as viewers if you’re made to believe this is as good as it gets when it comes to urban British cinema...because believe me it’s not.

I will prove it one day!

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

Attack the Block or Attack the Blacks

It's number three in the UK box office, after Thor and Fast Furious. It
features a majority Black British cast so how does this film portray black
people and what impressions will the tens of thousands of mostly white
viewers walk away with?

The main characters in the movies are a gang of 5 muggers. They are black or
mixed race apart from one white boy. They all live on a council estate which
conforms to the usual stereotypes; vast, shabby, dark and graffiti-strewn.
The first time we see them, all five corner a single white woman on a lonely
street. Their Leader, with hood up and mask on, blocks her passage, demands
her phone then her bag, then her ring. At each demand he becomes more
violent producing a flick knife before shoving her on the ground. She is
laying there while the gang surround her when they are distracted by an
explosion in a nearby car and she runs away.. One of the gang points out her
escape but the Leader says 'Allow it' and proceeds to ransack the car. It
does cross one's mind what else did they have in mind for the young woman
bearing in mind they had taken all of her possessions.
Anyway that's brushed aside as the explosion reveals an intruder that they
must kill as its 'not from the block' Once the gang has kicked it to death
they decide it's an alien and so the story begins. We later find out that
this intruder was also female.
Meanwhile the young white woman is comforted by an older white woman who
commiserates with her that the estate is full of 'F ing monsters'. The gang
later invades the woman's home and force her to provide first aid. We also
discover that there is a violent black drug dealer on the estate with a flat
full of weed. He listens to a heavy bassline rap with lyrics like:
Get that Snitch,
Get that Strap (gun)
Don't give a F***,
Brap ! Brap ! Brap ! Brap !
The drug dealer promotes the Leader by giving him some class A drugs to
run, at which point the arrival of more aliens distract the gang yet again
from further illegality and they get tooled up so they can go on a killing
spree. The boys just happen to have machetes and samurai swords to hand.
And what about these aliens ? How are they described ? This is what the
gang members say.. "It's black !" "Blacker than black!" "So black you can't
"This thing is even blacker than my cousin Femi !"
The gang of 5 will become our 'heroes' in the film as, while watching, we
see that the only thing that can save us from the savage, vicious, black,
alien monsters is some savage, vicious, black, human monsters.
The black females in the film are portrayed in a much more positive light.
They give shelter to the boys when they are in trouble and are shown to be
sensible, caring, articulate and loyal. They disapprove of the crime and
violence the boys are involved in and tell them so. They stick up for
themselves and even manage to subdue an alien without being saved by the
males. They offer pertinent observations about the Leader's conduct which
make him reflect on his behaviour.
While contemplating the aliens' presence the Leader states:
"I think the government sent them things. First they sent drugs. Then they
sent guns. Then these monsters. Black boys are 'nt killing each other fast
enough so they thought they'd speed up the process "
This social commentary , is totally undermined by the joke which
immediately follows .There is ample evidence that crime and violence have
been sponsored by the state in inner city areas however.
In 1998 a congressional inquiry led by Maxine Waters revealed that the CIA
was importing drugs into black areas of Los Angeles and giving crack
cocaine dealers like Ricky Ross preferential treatment. The drugs and guns
distributed by the US government led to catatastrophic social breakdown in
the black community, which was then blamed on the black community.
Closer to home Delroy Denton and Eaton Green were violent drug dealers
recruited by Scotland Yard to work as informers. While working for the Met
Police they distributed drugs and committed violent offences in the black
community. Delroy Denton went on to rape and murder Marcia Lawes in 1995.
Denton had previously been linked to 7 murders in Jamaica. No police officer
was prosecuted.
Operation Jackpot in 1993 revealed that police officers in Stoke Newington
were supplying drugs and guns to the local community while beating up
prisoners and planting evidence on black people. This behaviour had already
been exposed by the black-run Hackney Community Defence Association. All the
above were dismissed as conspiracy theories at the time.
The film ends with the Leader being handcuffed and taken away in a police
van suspected in the murder of two policemen . Meanwhile the estate dwellers
are out in force demonstrating and shouting the Leaders name. The name of
the leader ..? Moses
So by the end of the film we've seen that black boys are violent, predatory,
anti-social, drug dealers who like to gang up on single white females but
can be gainfully employed using their aggression against monsters from
another planet that just happen to be 'blacker than my cousin Femi' . When
they're done fighting aliens they end up prison.
Many people will rush to see this movie and be influenced by it. Some people
will watch it and see all their worst prejudices confirmed and reinforced.
Others will watch it, laugh and applaud the negative portrayals of
themselves as they have so few alternatives . Some will see it identify and
emulate. It might not be so bad but for the fact that there is already a
relentless procession of images and reports of black males being involved
with crime and violence.
Here is a comparison which goes to the root of the black image on screen and
how media portrayal affects social reality:-

Joe Cornish, who is white, made Attack the Block after he was mugged by a
group of boys in Brixton. It is his first film. It was given a budget of
£8 million. It's on 352 screens across the country and is being heavily
promoted via web, TV, buses , magazines etc
Menelik Shabbaz, award-winning black director of several films including
Burning an Illusion (1981) could not get any money from the establishment to
fund The Story of Lovers Rock. The film is a history of 30 years of the
Black British community, its musical legacy with stories of achievement,
police abuses and the fight for equality. He had to fund it entirely
himself. It will be released in September on a limited number of screens and
has an advertising budget of zero.

an extract from the website