Blue Story Andrew Onwubolu (UK 2019) Stephen Odubola, Michael Ward, Khali Best, Karla-Simone Spence
viewed 10th Dec 2019 Cineworld Newcastle upon Tyne; ticket £6.00
Like the title of one of James Baldwins’s books, this is a film from another country. We see a country populated by deterritorialised black urban males.
The events that take place are located in the prosaic London suburb of Peckham, a typical outer urban zone characterised by a mix of traditional early 20th century design and architecture, and post ‘60’s high density anonymous concrete blocks. The latter providing homes for the gang boys, a matching of place and persona for the groups of young men dressed in regulation dark who lay claim to territorial privileges on their turf.
This ‘another country’ is characterised by alienated de-individuated gang members. Onwubolu’s Blue Story has setting but is otherwise light on context. We get some insight into the family of a couple of the main protagonists who have both been brought up by a single mother who does her best to provide for her family, but at the implied cost of her being absent and ultimately excluded from the increasing absorption of her boys into the gang psyche. The life of the gang as depicted by Onwubolu simply swings about ‘belonging’; about belonging to a street family. The boys who are ‘bro’s’ to each other are the included at the very least in a semantic gesture. And it’s ‘inclusion’ that meets the need, that’s desired as the handle of identity for the men and boys who are locked out of the system and lack the means to unbolt the gates of the wider social relations of the economic and cultural matrix that is the UK. The bro’s are there because there is no place else. Not to be able to…
So the gang is depicted in Blue Story not as a organisation engaged in criminal enterprise such as drug dealing, but as a protective shell, a gathering-in, ( like a clan gathering) of the deterritorialised, a place where threatening external influences are held off. School and family no longer give shape and content to life; the gang purposes life, enveloping members in an language code that excludes outsiders but in itself defines the parameters of existence shaping life as an immediacy, a set of in-effect reactions to events and situations. The language of the gangs is a sort of patois. It comprises not only a specialised in –the –know vocabulary to register the immanent street concerns but also its pronunciation of English exploits a usage that makes it difficult for outsiders to understand, an empowering the gang against the outside. There were a number of times in the movie where I could not follow either the drift or the gist of the words as spoke. Speech becomes a mark of the self a source of protective strength and pride in who you are.
Blue Story registers in its script significant differentiation based on sex in response to the UK urban experience. The gangs (as represented by Onwubolu) are exclusively male, and their the concerns and the patois effectively masculine. This is a no woman world, in the film the women’s identity centres about the more socially acceptable goals; as represented in Blue Story the women stand in sharp contradistinction to the male attitude and experience. The women speak an English that is understandable, pronounced close to London usage and with expectations little different from their white working class counterparts. Black male identity it is, that is in play for solution in Blue Story.
Most of the script development is predictable enough. An embedded love story which plays out badly for the parties and the depiction of gang life as in effect re-action to events: the defence of turf, the cycle of revenge and accidental infliction of damage on the innocent. Although Blue Story was trailed as a movie depicting violent knife crime, shootings were more characteristic of the film. The violence that was done, was done by people rushing about with guns, and in this sense it was characteristic of a lot of UK gangsta films. The harm done at a distance rather than the insouciant closeness of the knife stabbed in the flesh of a body.
For all its reliance on formulaic situations, and gang situations are perhaps by definition formulaic, Onwubolu’s script and film take the mainstream audience into a world that is right next door but as alien as a life form on a distant planet. The film obviously focuses on a limited number of the gang members, the gang leaders and one noble refusnik the one who refuses to conform to street life. My attention was caught by the silent guys standing at the back of the gangs the guys in the shadows. Those who said nothing, those who looked on with impassive faces, impossible to read and then followed the leader. Who are they? Silent ones, those without a voice those who use the knife as their only means of articulation. To stick the knife in deep the only way of saying something of saying here I am look at me, the break out of a life of muteness.