ATTACK OF THE ENDZ…
This month sees the release of urban horror film, Attack of the Block. A few months ago Anuvahood opened to sold out audiences across the UK, even as Pigeon English, a novel written by South Londoner Stephen Kelman, based on the estates he lived on, was reportedly sold for a six-figure sum. Next month sees the opening of photographic exhibition Don’t Call Me Urban, a 12 year chronicle of the London grime scene (http://www.dontcallmeurban.com/) touching down at East London arts venue, Rich Mix. So, most people would say there is a reinvigorated interest in all things ‘road’, bringing truth and authenticity previously overlooked. Many would even add that this ‘experimentation’, as reviews that describe Attack of the Block would phrase it, is a good thing.
And on some levels it is. I’m constantly asked by people what I think about the direction this genre is heading in, and I often find it hard to comment definitively. Am I glad more working class actors and writers have jobs? Yes. Am I happy to hear the slang and way of life I know depicted on screen? Yes, that too. Am I happy that these depictions are limited to the narrow confines of consumerism, read ‘a mainstream audience’? Hell, no. And am I frustrated that, try as we might, any attempt to get a serious examination of inner city lives off the ground, is met with ‘That’s too bleak, too gritty, or it doesn’t make me laugh?’ Of course I am. I’d be crazy not to be.
The thing is, I’ve long believed we need it all. Lighthearted, bravehearted, nasty and nice. The only way we’ll see the true range and trajectory of our inner-city folk, is to allow them to blossom in whichever direction they choose. Don’t curtail the art, shape and mould it. Find out what the artists want to say and help them say it. What’s happening now, what I’m against, is the notion that if we don’t conform to the mainstream ideals of how our world should be portrayed, we’re not allowed to play the game.
I see this stance as infantile in the extreme, and economically short-sighted. Giving kids that went to see Kidulthood new versions of Kidulthood every few years might make sure money, but only in the short term. And not international money, long-lasting money. To do that you have to make art without boundaries, speak humanitarian truth, not consumerist. It’s all well and good to pander to the tastes of the majority, but it will never be true art unless it speaks from the soul, and therefore will never be rewarded as such.
So, in the Tyler Perry versus Spike Lee argument, I’m like, ‘Can’t we all get along?’ HBO made Sex in the City and The Wire. Same production company, different product. Hollywood does it all the time. Why not the UK film and TV industry, why not us, the artists? The only reason not to exploit separate approaches would be for reasons fundamentally and morally wrong, reasons of race, gender and cultural superiority, an almost desperate attempt to confine street dwellers to the alleys and corners from which they came. And of course, that would never happen in our rich, post-racial, multicultural society. Would it?