The Story of Lovers Rock is a film made by Menelik Shabbaz about a type of music known as Romantic Reggae and the associated lifestyle and culture of the black community in England in the 1970's/80's.
Mr Shabbbaz is an award-winning filmmaker who was never privileged and patronised in the same way that white directors of less stature have been. Lovers Rock is his first film for fifteen years, it was refused funding by all of the major arts and culture funding bodies who came up with a list of excuses ; not relevant, no market, too niche, not really history, etc. Mr Shabbaz and his team went to the community and repeatedly asked for investors. Despite getting full houses and rapturous applause at several preview screenings at the BFI and the Coronet, people were long on talk but short on pulling their pockets. Fifty thousand pounds was the amount in question. Mr Shabbaz persevered, completed the film despite several last minute obstacles and amazingly managed to secure a distribution deal which meant that a company would assist in placing the film in cinemas across the country. This in itself is unusual as many black films never get
distributed and are shown once or twice if at all before disappearing. The result is that people never get to enjoy, learn or benefit from the those films and there is no box office results to prove such films sell. This then puts off distributors from distributing such films and producers/studios from making such films in the first place.
Mr Shabbaz and his team got the Story of Lovers Rock on a number of screens across the country. This is what happened next..
* Cinemas did not display the Lovers Rock poster in advance or on the day
* Cinemas did not have the film listed on their own website or on their printed programme
* Cinema staff did not know that the film was on in their cinema
* Cinemas did not include the film in their weekly mail out to their regular customers
* Cinemas did not play the trailer for Lovers Rock before the main feature in advance of the film opening as normally happens
* Cinemas that were showing the film did not take delivery of the film or if the film failed to arrive at the stated time did not chase up the distributors they just cancelled the show even though people had booked in advance to see it
* Cinemas agreed to one or two screenings at weird times like 1.30pm on a Monday
No room on screen for loving black couples.
All of the above happened before and even after the screenings began to sell out.
Lovers Rock has been selling out 400 seat cinemas at 11.30pm 7.30pm on weekdays and weekends. Lovers Rock attendance and box office takings have beaten Hollywood blockbusters on at the same venue such as Tinker, Tailor, Soldier Spy. This is incredible as Tinker had heavy TV, Radio, billboard and newspaper advertising whereas Lovers Rock has none of that. Lovers Rock has had people being turned away at the door and dancing in the aisles. Cinemas were approached to screen the film or extend the run. This is what happened next...
* Cinemas said no
* That they couldn’t see the point
* That they weren’t sure if the film was 'right'
* That it wasn’t worth the risk
* That they weren’t sure if there was any interest
* That they couldn’t put up posters as the directors name was spelt incorrectly
* That they might give it one more day maybe
* That they would definitely show it.. At 1.30pm on a Monday and Tuesday
This is the treatment that a successful independent black film that is making money is getting. Does this happen to Harry Potter? What is the problem? Why would you refuse to screen a film that is making money? Is it that the film shows black people in an accurate and positive light? Why would a film that is making money at 7.30pm on a Thursday be given a follow up slot at 1.30pm on a Monday afternoon when most people are at work or school?
Spike Lee's film about heroic black soldiers in World War 2 Miracle at Santa Anna was blocked by its European distributors because they didn’t 'like' the film. Mr Lee took them to court and won 45 million dollars in compensation.
Oprah Winfrey’s and Denzel Washington’s Great Debaters, about black academic success, which made a profit of 15 million dollars was never even released here. Jumping the Broom an African American romantic
This image is not wanted in the UK.
Comedy shows loving black families getting married. It made 31 million US dollars and got to number 3 in the US charts but will not be released in this country. Shirley Chisholm the amazing and inspirational story about the first black woman to run for President was never released here. Perhaps it was because these films have an all black cast and the majority white population is not interested in seeing black people on the big screen. In which case how is it that 50 Cents Get Rich or Die Trying got released nationwide ? It was the story of drug dealing/prostitute mum who gets murdered and her son and his drug dealing criminal associates who get killed before he becomes a rapper. Precious a film about a homeless, illiterate, overweight black teenager who is the victim of rape and pregnancy twice by her father and physical/emotional abuse by her mother; which has a scene where black women are compared to dogs was on 447 screens across the
country. American Gangster, starring Denzel Washington, about a drug-dealing gangster who flooded Harlem with heroin in the 70's was also on general release. Attack the Block was Joe Cornish' first ever film. As a white director he had no problem getting 6 million pounds to make a film with a majority black cast. In the film we are introduced to a mostly black criminal gang as they rob a white woman with a hint of wishing to rape her, then the lead black youth goes to his local drug lord where he gets promoted to a drug dealer. He and his mates are quite happy about this. The only thing that stops him drug dealing is the arrival of aliens from outer space. By the way, the aliens from outer space are 'black' 'So black you can’t see!' and ‘Blacker than my cousin Femi' according to the script. The black male lead ends up in prison. This film was heavily advertised and made the top ten. What does this say about the film industry and British culture?
Lovers Rock is out now if you haven’t seen it... We are also holding a private screening this Friday in view of encouraging attendees to go out challenge this anomaly.