Click to Skip Ad
Closing in...
'Key & Peele' Will End After Its Current Season 'Key & Peele' Will End After Its Current Season MSNBC Decides: Touré Is Out, Rev. Al Stays (For Now) MSNBC Decides: Touré Is Out, Rev. Al Stays (For Now) Disney Channel & Disney XD Casting Directors Holding Online Casting Call for Diverse Actors, Age 10-17 Disney Channel & Disney XD Casting Directors Holding Online Casting Call for Diverse Actors, Age 10-17 Revisiting Spike Lee's Perplexing 'She Hate Me' on Its 11th Anniversary Revisiting Spike Lee's Perplexing 'She Hate Me' on Its 11th Anniversary Oprah Winfrey Presents Landmark 7-Night Event Series 'Belief' Premiering October 18 (Trailer) Oprah Winfrey Presents Landmark 7-Night Event Series 'Belief' Premiering October 18 (Trailer) Watch 5 Clips From TV One Original Movie 'Runaway Island' - Premieres This Saturday, July 25 Watch 5 Clips From TV One Original Movie 'Runaway Island' - Premieres This Saturday, July 25 Samira Wiley to Co-Star in Film Based on Kitty Genovese 1964 Murder Samira Wiley to Co-Star in Film Based on Kitty Genovese 1964 Murder MTV Has Made Its 'White People' Documentary Available Online - Watch It Here MTV Has Made Its 'White People' Documentary Available Online - Watch It Here MSNBC Is Caught Between a Rock and a Hard Place with Rev. Al (Demote Him or Let Him Go?) MSNBC Is Caught Between a Rock and a Hard Place with Rev. Al (Demote Him or Let Him Go?) LeBron James Inks "Unprecedented Agreement" with Warner Bros. Spanning Film, TV, Digital LeBron James Inks "Unprecedented Agreement" with Warner Bros. Spanning Film, TV, Digital "New Money, New Power" in 'Empire' Season 2 First Look Video Promo "New Money, New Power" in 'Empire' Season 2 First Look Video Promo Don Cheadle's 'Miles Ahead' Will World Premiere as the Closing Night Film at the 53rd New York Film Festival Don Cheadle's 'Miles Ahead' Will World Premiere as the Closing Night Film at the 53rd New York Film Festival What TV Critics Are Saying about MTV's 'White People' Documentary + Watch 3 Clips What TV Critics Are Saying about MTV's 'White People' Documentary + Watch 3 Clips Check Out the Official Theatrical Trailer for Stanley Nelson’s 'The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution' Check Out the Official Theatrical Trailer for Stanley Nelson’s 'The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution' Starz Announces Return Date for Original Series 'Power' + New Key Art + Trailer Starz Announces Return Date for Original Series 'Power' + New Key Art + Trailer Why Was Janet Hubert (Aunt Viv) Really Replaced on 'Fresh Prince of Bel-Air'? Buzzfeed Investigates Why Was Janet Hubert (Aunt Viv) Really Replaced on 'Fresh Prince of Bel-Air'? Buzzfeed Investigates Third 'Best Man' Movie Gets a Title, an Official 2016 Release Date & A Most Unexpected Wedding Third 'Best Man' Movie Gets a Title, an Official 2016 Release Date & A Most Unexpected Wedding Aaron McGruder Finally Explains Why He Left 'The Boondocks' Aaron McGruder Finally Explains Why He Left 'The Boondocks' Netflix Explains Why It Doesn't Always Have That Film Or TV Show You Really Want To See (Video) Netflix Explains Why It Doesn't Always Have That Film Or TV Show You Really Want To See (Video) Tichina Arnold Says She Talked To Martin Lawrence About Doing A 'Martin' Movie... Tichina Arnold Says She Talked To Martin Lawrence About Doing A 'Martin' Movie...

Yet Another Extraordinary Day In Da Hood... In The UK... At The Movies

Shadow and Act By Wendy Okoi-Obuli | Shadow and Act May 23, 2013 at 11:35AM

Yet Another Extraordinary Day In Da Hood... In The UK... At The Movies
5
Attack The Block

Recently revisiting Attack The Block, the British film directed by Joe Cornish that won awards and the hearts of fans even outside the UK, I was reminded of a piece I posted on S&A in its early days (around the time I first heard about Attack The Block, incidentally) about British "urban" flicks and how they seem to provide a film career leg-up for some white filmmakers on the backs of black stereotypes. 


In that piece, I wrote: 

From the little that I hear and know, it seems black British filmmakers trying for years to get projects off the ground are more often than not knocked back; but, at the risk of sounding whiney, it seems that as soon as a white writer-director comes up with an "urban" tale involving guns... 

In 2004, Bullet Boy, directed by Saul Dibb and co-written by Dibb and Catherine Johnson, trotted out the predictable trope of rap music, drugs, guns and the seeming inevitability of crime and violence in the "ghetto"; while in 2006, Rollin' With The Nines directed by Julian Gilbey and co-written with Will Gilbey, rolled out the same theme but with a more mindless, blaxploitation flair. Thankfully, that same year Kidulthood, written, directed by, and starring Noel Clarke, came along and contextualised the same themes but made them more a tale of the disaffectation and restlessness of inner city youth, which seemed to resonate quite rousingly with that target audience, making it a UK box office success and leading to a sequel and a BAFTA win for Clarke. None of these films were particularly up my street, but I can't help but wonder who Bullet Boy and Rollin With The Nines were written and made for - and suspect it had more to do with band-wagon riding "film execs" than any real demographic who might actually want to pay to see them. And now along comes 1 Day, written and directed by Penny Woolcock. If it sounds as if I might feel that Dibb and Gilbey were unlikely storytellers, far removed from the subject of their films, then Woolcock, a 59 year old white woman, seems right out of the ball park.


While I'd certainly like to see more black stories told by black people, I have nothing against white people telling stories involving black people so long as they don't keep telling the same narrow, and often wildly exaggerated, story. 

Granted, first time director Cornish has certainly taken a more creative route with his hood movie, as did Woolcock last year with 1 Day (Attack The Block is a sci-fi comedy, and 1 Day a musical hip-hopera), but both of them were conceived under very similar circumstances. The following is an excerpt from an interview in The Guardian in which Cornish recounts how the idea for Attack the Block came about:
A few years ago, Joe Cornish was mugged near his home in Stockwell, south London. It was, he says, a traumatic experience. "I love where I live and I constantly find myself defending it, and suddenly this very difficult thing happens. My first impetus was to try and get beyond the stereotype. And also, somewhere in my head, to escape into the places I used to as a child, when I'd project Hollywood fantasies onto my everyday life." Cornish did both. He investigated the kind of kids who robbed him, talking to children on the street and in youth clubs. And he injected a shot of film fantasy into a world generally treated with some disdain by directors; a vision that would trump most pre-teen dreams. "It kind of what Mr Spielberg was doing with ET. Those dinner scenes are kind of like a Ken Loach film, and then this little alien pops up. Yet it's still realism."

Hmm... where have I heard this before...? Oh yes! That's how Woolcock came up with her idea for 1 Day! After she got mugged by some young black kids! 

As quoted in my earlier post from an interview Woolcock gave to Channel 4, her motivations include "People on the margins. Looking carefully at what seems familiar and breaking it up. Looking at what seems frightening and exotic and making sense of it." 

Truthfully, fear, anger and exoticism (as much as it may rankle, given the very few instances of British films featuring mainly black casts) are legitimate catalysts for creativity but I wonder if either Woolcock or Cornish would have gone into creativity overdrive if they'd been mugged by white youths or if they'd just have put it down to a bad experience and got on with the rest of their creative lives? Better yet, would they have ever thought of making a film with a mainly (or even half) black cast if the theme didn't centre on the exoticism of crime and/or inner city hood life as they see it? 

Having said that, it sounds like Cornish did (does?) actually live in the kind of neighbourhood he portrays in the film (or at least near a block of council flats) and aliens landing in a London council estate does sound kind of funny. Like I said before, Cornish and Woolcock were much more creative and perhaps even valiant in their attempts to portray urban life than the average white British blaxploitation filmmaker but, with black British actors having a hard time getting regular film work (especially at home), it's a little disconcerting that British filmmakers (black and white) still only see black characters in film in connection with crime and and social deprivation - the assumption being, perhaps, that that's the only way film audiences are prepared to see black British characters. 


I got an email from a Facebook friend and reader, asking if any black screenwriters on this side of the pond were writing a story influenced by Tidjane Thiam, the first black CEO of insurance company Prudential, or any British blue chip company - sort of a high finance story set in London rather than Wall Street . Don't get me wrong, I don't necessarily only want to see movies in which black characters are only overachieving saints any more than I want them to just be dysfunctional stereotypes (some interesting, complex characters with depth and breadth would be nice though), but my first thought in response to the email was that if a black screenwriter is penning a story based on someone like Thiam, or any black British investment banker, or one of our black MPs, or lawyers, or... then it probably won't see the light of day because... well, it's not realistic, is it? Pushes the boundaries of plausibility just a little too far. I mean, if we're going to tell our own stories, then we should really stick to, well, you know... our own stories, right? If, however, a white filmmaker comes up with the story of a black CEO whose childhood mates entice him into a  hybrid of hood/white collar crime (because, of course, he would have been brought up on some such disturbingly exotic manner), maybe it would  stand a... Hmm, wait... maybe I should keep that one for myself!


Shadow & ActNewsletter