Gangs, Guns and Good Movies

Gangs, guns, girls and the ghetto are not just the things we hear about in hip hop, rap and grime music. Unwillingly or not, these are some of the pastimes and lifestyles of a large number of the people we know and see in our day to day lives. All you have to do is pick up your local newspaper and its clear that the culture of crime doesn’t seem to be getting any tamer – especially where young people are concerned. Films set in UK inner cities, addressing teenage gang violence, have grown in number over the past 5 years. Whether they’re independent movies or funded by local arts councils, the surge of these films surrounding youths involved in drugs, guns, knives and everything in between is rising. The actual purpose of films like these remains unclear, are they there to shock us? Are they made to try and deter young people from choosing certain paths in life? Or are they there to simply emulate society and highlight what’s going on?
Everyone loves having something to blame, for everything wrong with the world. From the crappy weather, to the reason why the crime rate in the UK is constantly on the up. It seems that the most likely suspects to be blamed for the latter are music and film. Entertainment mediums like these are what bring the action of the streets onto our screens and iPods. But how can a film or a song possibly be to blame for why organised crime and gang violence are becoming increasingly popular? We all like a bit of action, a bit of horror, maybe even a bit of romance but that doesn’t mean we’re going to go and re-enact whatever it is we see on the big screen. If I go and watch an epic war film where a million soldiers are decapitated and masses of people are wiped out,  it doesn’t mean that I’m going to go home and try to emulate that on a smaller scale. Likewise if I watch a film which gives me unrealistic expectations of love, you won’t catch me hanging around ponds looking for frogs to kiss in the hope of bagging myself a sexy man, a castle and a pony. Why then do so many critics and people feel that films about youth gang violence in the UK have any kind of direct influence on why these things aren’t getting any better in the real world? Films such as Adulthood, Kidulthood and Shifty are all excellent examples of movies which depict the struggles of young people growing up in estates and communities suffering from long term unemployment. They show it – they may not cure it but they certainly don’t cause it. It’s all a part and a reflection of the society we live in. A place where falling into drug and knife crime is not hard, not uncommon and not surprising.
The latest addition to the collection of these British films is called One Daywhich is set in Birmingham. At a glance, the film is essentially just another film about gangs, drug dealers, debts and murder. In her directorial debut, Penny Woolcock uses a mix of real actors and recording artists as well as young people from the area, ex-gang members and current gang members. In this way she has created one of the most realistic representations we’ve seen thus far. With an original casting process and a hip hop/grime sound-track it addresses the issues of young people in these areas; gang warfare, drug dealing and general lack of opportunity they’re faced with on a daily basis. It doesn’t necessarily shed new light on any of these issues and we don’t necessarily witness something more shocking than we have done in previous films of it’s kind. Even before it’s release, the film has already been criticised in local newspapers as a film which celebrates gang warfare. Its based around real events involving two rival gangs in the inner city areas of Birmingham. Unlike similar films however, this one is a musical. Every twenty minutes the cast break out into song to describe or react to a situation. The fact that this shows a direct link between the streets, the movie and the music is what adds a new dimension to the film. In some ways it is reminiscent of the classic musical West Side Story; love stories, rival gangs and battle songs. I’m sure nobody ever accused West Side Story of causing an mass of flick-knife induced crimes around the time of it’s release though.
The interesting thing about films like One Day and its predecessors is that they are all set within a twenty four hour time frame. It seems that that enough can happen in just a day to create two hours worth of gripping material. Stylistically however we have many examples of how different directors have taken their approach in depicting the various situations. Kidulthood and Adulthood were probably the first films of this kind to gain vast critical acclaim. Kidulthoodwhich was set in West London, follows a 15 year-old boy’s struggle in trying to please his girlfriend, his mum, his friends and his drugdealing uncle. The sequel Adulthoodwas a story of revenge for what happened in the first film. Both of these are simply structured and easy to follow.  Eeran Creevey’s Shifty starring Danny Mays and Riz Ahmed the film was made on a very small budget and the cast weren’t even paid. This film stands out in that it is more about the characters rather than the lifestyle. The excellent quality of the script cannot be matched by any of its contemporaries. This film isn’t so much about drugs but more so about the people themselves. It delves deep into the psyche of the protagonists. Another important element of these films is their soundtrack which is arguably just as vital as the films themselves. The soundtracks are always a direct connection to the action of the plot. In this way we can consider them as giving a voice to young people in more ways than one. Then they should be something to be praised, not condemned.
The Classic epic gangster movies like the Godfather, Scarface and Lockstock are never really blamed as having any kind of influence on crime in the real world. If I was a young ‘wannabe-thug’ I think I’d be more likely to look up to the likes of Marlon Brando, Al Pacino or Jason Statham as opposed to local lads like Noel Clarke and Adam Deacon. Whilst they may not have big Hollywood A-list actors or fantastic sets and dazzling graphics the themes are substantially sufficient in creating something that will leave an audience shaken or stirred. Realistically it is not suspiring that these lower budget homegrown films reach people on a more personal level.  Chances are you know someone or know someone that knows someone who could potentially be one of the characters. Even so, the criticism that films like this glamorise and glorify the gun and knife crime is in no way justified for the simple reason that films dealing with issues like these were around way before Nike Air Max trainers, hoodies and rudeboys.

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