In the uninhibited Surrey Quays Odeon I sat with 3 of my college friends in wait of Blue Story. It is a wonderful cinema, the Odeon is a landmark of the ends, none of that Vue stuff, and whenever I watch a film there, predominantly black in cast or story or not, the majority of the crowd relates to me. Insofar as the comments they make, the gestures, the oo’s and ra’s in response to moments in the film so far. The applause and joy of appreciation of great filmmaking goes hand in hand, though Blue Story, in particular, made the theatre rejoice in moments as if an orchestrated band. We did so due to the matter of fact, Blue Story exacts a blueprint of fragments of many youths from the hoods intertwining lifestyles around gang culture.
It is a revealing film that dives into the reasoning behind gang culture, exposing a compelling idea of the nonintuitive cycle of it, while highlighting the unexplored trauma that comes with love, loyalty, and luck within such a context of living. Unfortunately, the film’s opening weekend release has been tainted by the actions of managers within Vue Cinema, that ceased showing the film in all its UK branches due to widespread incidents in theatres, who readily excused the content of the film in an unsavory and racially tone-deaf link between them. Though this is another conversation in itself, I prefer to review the greatness this film serves and the admirable job Rapman and the cast did.
The film is about two best friends, Timmy (Stephen Odubola) and Marco (Michael Ward), from different backgrounds, living in dangerous hoods, areas, segregated by life-changing postcodes, though tied together through an extended brotherhood of love and protection. Like most friends during school days commuting too and from is a seminal part of the relationship despite manouvering through and digesting trauma as if it is one’s daily bread. The two friends live on opposing sides of an ends beef secreted in a history of unknown animosity from both sides. The actual causation of the issue between the gangs is a cloudy and incoherent topic, which rings true for the realities of many of these children and young adults captivated by such a lifestyle, though when cemented in a pattern of behaviour it becomes a matter of life and death.
Rapman pieces together a heartwarming and wrenching story that I recognised, as a young black man from South East London, compiling so many intricate and compelling moments that built me away from a mentality and way to live. It also encompasses an unseen interaction of young black boys simply existing in the period of school during such a time. The film does not show or imply that, though due to the lack of representation of such communities, cultures, and the commonalities shared between, it must be said that such a livelihood is not the general norm for young black people.
Nevertheless, Blue Story compiles moments in which I have experienced. I feel it was a film tailored to someone like me, the intricacies of banter, the facial expressions, the language accustomed to the actors who portrayed the entirety of the culture so enthusiastically, even the timidness and fear expressed at dealing with young women and older more imposing youths. It was very telling that Rapman acknowledged how invasive gang culture could be, how proximity and catchment area can have an overarching rule on one’s immediate destiny, and he was adamant in showing the worthlessness of it all unless through off-putting attitude and mentalities.
For instance, a contrast in how uplifting violence can be when protecting friends, the adrenaline and the empowerment of being in control. The flip side is the intimidation, the domineering control of violence that could inspire more, the gang and the environment dictating how one should feel and exist by it – as well as the methods used to maintain the bottle for it all. It is very sudden and can flip from moments of joy to uncontrolled moments on the edge. The domino effect of gang culture can ultimately cost life, and in situations where everyone starts out as innocent, it prompts you to question how this all came to be.
When conceiving all this information regarding youth violence, and considering the film, as an adult several years removed from such scenarios you think – no child should experience such pain and confusion at an early age. No teenager should face violence in their everyday lives, and everyone somewhat begins as a clear canvas with their experiences the paint to illustrate a way to be. I think this needs to be expanded on much more by generally the whole of society. We need more rehabilitation around gangs, instead of building more policies to cement people in their lifestyles by hurling them into a jail system upheld by insane recidivism rates. Those young children, solidifying their behaviour into adulthood, tend not to have the resources or general outlook to see the necessity in growing away from mentalities they have essentially codified. The trauma represented in the film at times is spacious, empty as if the characters/actors themselves are also figuring out an answer. Specifically scenes the coping mechanisms, the group mentality and always staying with the gang, the weapons and need to stay protected, the acknowledgment of strength and the consistency of smoking to keep mentally afloat. It is all a maddening thought process.
This being considered I was removed from adulthood in moments, sucked into the film, and plunged back into a school and college period setting. The actors, specifically Khali Best, who played a gangbanger Killy, Kadeem Ramsay, who played a school friend in Hakeem, and the two main characters Timmy and Marco worked wonderfully together as identifiable characters many recognise for a variety of traits. Specifically, the house party scene which felt a hilarious throwback to less confident times. There is a point in which inauthentic voices have attempted to represent such people, from ends, in TV series, some other films, and it does not ring the same. This is another thing I think is not so fascinating, but necessary, as authentic voices and actors bring to fruition so much more expression in every sense.
Rapman and scenes from his Blue Story and Shiro Story
Another authentic voice comes in Rapman’s interjections, essentially between acts, where he depicts the scenes, thoughts, and emotions that carry the characters from situation to situation. Like his famed Shiro story, this worked quite well. The transitioning from scene to song was smoother than I expected, and the soundtrack in whole was infused with a hard-hitting lyricism that captured the moments greatly. The scenes of real-life through CCTV and video footage also showed how widespread a phenomenon the youth violence is, in what seemed to be the most triggering part of the film, acknowledging the sheer volume of people embroiled in senseless violence. Considering all of the above, I watched the film with my heart taken back to a period of school and college, my mind fixed on the story, and my eyes attempting to perceive this all through youths today.
Blue Story is neatly pieced together and is my favourite rendition of the hood/gang lifestyle story, enamoured by postcodes and area beefs, that goes largely untold. The only issues I had with the film is a lack of insight to the money involved around gang life, a tendency to only have black mothers as breadwinners and housework merchants, only to position them to cry hysterically over the bad deeds of her children. It makes them seem powerless, but also may be a mark of the innocence and appreciation such a livelihood extends onto motherhood. Nevertheless, I understand Blue Story was meant to represent a story of Peckham vs Ghetto Boys, positioned to make it scenarios to learn from opposed to glorifying it – hence money could be seen as enticing.
To achieve £1.3 million in the Box Office after Vue’s stunt in banning the film being shown in hundreds of its cinema chain is outstanding, and I personally feel this story from such an intense angle does not need to be touched on again. The heights in which Rapman has reached, working with Jay-Z and Rocnation, now releasing this film, tells me this could go down as a culture classic. It should be utilised as a culture product of study to some extent, though I’m sure more incentives carrying the message of pointlessness in violence and gang culture.
Rating: 3.5/5 Stars
Runtime: 1 H 31 M
Director: Andrew Onwubolu
Production Company: Paramount Pictures, BBC Films