Developed from his original stage show, director Rickki Beadle-Blair explores the controversial subjects of class, racism and homophobia in dance hall music in this contemporary urban drama.
JJ (played by Skins star, Joel Dommett) is an up and coming MC who is following his passion for music and working his way to the Urban Slam finals. But not only is JJ white, he is also gay and following a confrontation with “The Illford Illmaniacs”, a local crew of black MC’s, he comes out on stage. But his boyfriend, Orlando (played by Marcus Kai), is backstage and falls foul of a brutal homophobic attack which leaves him brain damaged. The Crew are defended in Court by a closeted gay solicitor whom they had previously subjected to a homophobic attack in a shop, which resulted in him meting and falling in love with a young carer. The film goes on to explore the fallout of the attack on Orlando and the impact on the lives of those involved, from the experiences in prison of the four men who carried out the attack to JJ, Orlando and those involved in his care.
The film maker has to be commended for tackling, head on, such a difficult subject, namely the issues of class, racism and homophobia within the urban dance hall scene. One of the sub plots starts to explore the link between the homophobic lyrics of dance hall/rap music and the views, attitudes and actions of the principal characters, although unfortunately, no conclusion is ever reached in relation to this, whilst other subplots look at themes of redemption, forgiveness and change. There are some nice little touches in terms of the direction of the film, in particular, a scene mirroring the actions between the police station immediately following the arrest of The Crew, the solicitor cottaging in the park and Orlando being looked after by his carer. There are also a couple of scenes of quite brutal violence, one of which is uncomfortable viewing. What was noticeable about the film was the complete lack of any sex scenes – something which was refreshingly different, showing an attitude of a film maker who has a valid point to make about the gay community rather than simply relying on the use of titillation to tip the film into the gay genre.
As someone who could not be much further removed from the target audience of this film, I found the script and the use of language confusing at best and laughable at worst. Repeated use of the words “blood”, “nigga” and “brother” as terms of endearment only served to compound the clichéd nature of the writing and did more to reinforce negative stereotypes rather than challenge them. In terms of the cast, the portrayal of a brain damaged Orlando was almost cartoonish and actually embarrassing to watch at times, but the rest of the cast provided functional performances which were adequate but never spectacular.
The writing and story were disjointed, throwing a number of curveballs at the viewer in terms of various scenes and sub plots which came out of nowhere and which were never really fully explained or satisfactorily drawn to any logical conclusion. The open ended nature and lack of any full exploration of some of the storylines was one of the major flaws in the film. That was emphasised by some of the behaviour of the characters which were also confusing at times, with them making illogical choices which jolted sharply with the proceeding story.
That said, the film does have its moments and the story as a whole held my interest. Similar in tone to programmes like Skins and Top Boy, the film is bold, brash and written and filmed in a provocative style in an attempt to deliberately confront the viewer and invoke a variety of emotions in them. The film, whilst clumsily written and executed overall, has its heart in the right place and for those with an interest in the urban music scene or looking for a piece of urban drama, the film has some redeeming features and will no doubt resonate with its target audience.
In between visits to the theatre, watching films, photography, walking, scuba diving and singing (badly); Paul writes for TheGayUK.