A fight broke out at a cinema screening this vital new film representing the black British experience. To ban it demonstrates exactly why people need to see it.
I saw Blue Story on Saturday night in south London. The cinema was packed – mostly with young black teenagers – and the atmosphere was lively. The film tells the tragically familiar story of two childhood friends who get caught up in gangs from rival postcodes at war on the streets of London. We were very invested in the movie; it spoke to everyone in the room. The shared anguish at the sense of impending tragedy whenever someone was asked that fateful question “Where you from?” was palpable, as was the abandon with which we laughed in its lighter moments.
Afterwards, my friend and I said how elated we were at this level of representation on the big screen. The characters’ school could have been the one I went to; the kids could have been my classmates; the male protagonists could be my younger brother and his friends. It was a powerful experience, feeling a film landing with an audience that clearly wanted to see it – to see these stories go mainstream.
Since its release last Friday, the film has been caught up in controversy after a mass brawl involving teenagers erupted in Birmingham, with footage showing the teenagers fighting inside a cinema foyer. In response, Vue and Showcase cinemas have withdrawn the film.
My first thought when I heard this was: “I’m tired.” The film never suggests that being in a gang is a good idea. In its tragic depiction of the loss of innocence and the trauma inflicted on communities, Blue Story is told with an energy and clarity that spring from the personal experience of the director, Andrew Onwubolu – AKA Rapman. Banning it is at best an overreaction and at worst a dismissal of one of its core messages: that good kids can lose their way and fall into a cycle of violence and retaliation.
As police investigate the awful incident in Birmingham, I can only echo Rapman’s measured reaction in hoping that blame is ultimately placed with the individuals. At the time of writing, West Midlands police have not established any connection with the film, nor did they recommend a ban, details woefully glossed over in much of the media coverage. Four out of the five people so far arrested (now bailed) are too young to have got into a 15-rated film, and it remains unclear how and why the fight broke out and what they were there to watch.
It therefore makes little sense that Vue decided there was a causal link to Blue Story. It needs to seriously ask why it was quick to make one. More than anything, I’m also gutted for the creators. It is hard to overstate how important a moment this is for black British film-making.
The film’s release should have been a celebration. It is a shame that this incident not only cut opening box office figures, but is now dominating the narrative.
There has long been a dearth of homegrown representation on the big screen to help us make sense of our violent times. That this unfortunate incident coincided with Blue Story’s opening weekend demonstrates, in the most compelling way possible (albeit with distressing irony), precisely why people need to see it.