Nadia Angel talks about an incident in a Birmingham cinema that led to Rapman’s Blue Story being temporarily pulled from UK cinemas along with other examples of institutional racism within the film industry.
Ah, the plights of institutional racism. Some don’t believe it exists. Others do, usually the victims.
Blue Story took the last trimester of the year of 2019 and greatly elevated it, in terms of representation of the black community. Rapman, both artist and now movie director, emphasised on The Russel Howard Hour that ‘Blue Story does not glamorise violence’. Instead, the film offered a Romeo and Juliet sense to the harsh realities of urban living among gangs (although not necessarily involved in them) that inevitability caused the loss of a brotherly friendship.
This was not Rapman’s first bout as a director; he has tended to direct his own music videos which follow a similar style of reflecting the narrative he is rapping. An example of which is the popular Shiro’s Story which managed 1 million views in 4 days for part 1, part 2 racked up 2 million views in 2 days and part 3 succeeded a million views in 5 hours. His talent and the success of his videos led him to come into contact with Shawn Carter, better known as Jay Z – Rapman’s new found manager.
From initial inspection this seems like a great tale of a black man making a name for himself and utilising his talents to raise awareness of the harsh realities of inner city living. However, there were a few that twisted this heroic narrative into one of the up most betrayal to the development of black people.
Although there were recorded incidents around cinemas at the time of release, not all incidents can be directly linked to the ‘gang film’, as described (instead of using much more romantic descriptors such as ‘tragedy’) by many publications including the BBC and the Independent. One altercation in Birmingham resulted in a temporary removal of the film from VUE cinemas with Showcase following suit. The decision was deemed by many as irrational and quick – as though the removal was premeditated and all that was being waited for was the opportunity. These were conspiracies none the less. Major backlash meant VUE cinemas returned Blue Story to the screens and adhered to adding more security instead.
In replying to the altercation Rapman mentioned within his statement how ‘Blue Story is a film about love not violence’, something seemingly ignored by those allocating blame for these altercations. Although Rapman did condemn the actions of those involved it is to be noted that there were never any fighting within the screenings and the fight had broken out whilst people were actually queuing to watch Frozen 2.
You may be thinking, what has this got to do with ‘institutional racism’? I believe the fact that cinema organisations were willing to allocate blame for these acts of violence on a film, with a predominantly black cast and a black producer was no coincidence. Furthermore, these organisations have power and have effectively demonstrated this power by restricting views to an insightful culture-ridden film. This is the height of institutional racism. The restriction of those views was damaging to potential sales, which ultimately go to pay those involved in the production – the minorities who were making a name for themselves. Evidence of this comes from the film The Dark Knight Rises, a fantastic film though of which James Holmes undertook a mass shooting within a screening which resulted in civilian deaths. However, the film was never banned. How fitting. Despite all, Blue Story persevered and did extremely well with one of the lead actors Michael Ward being nominated for a Rising Star Bafta.
This is not the first time that the cinematic industry has been under scrutiny for racism. Films such as Aloha, Exodus: Gods and Kings and lastly the notorious Ghost in the Shell have all been accused of severe white washing and upsetting the cultures that were in turn ignored. Producer Gregory Allen Howard who, when considering a film on abolitionist Harriet Tubman back in 1995, suggested Julia Roberts would be suitable of playing the role of Harriet. He claimed that Harriet was alive so long ago that no one would be able to tell the difference. Similarly to Blue Story, people took to social media in all these instances to voice their opinions of disgust. They were ultimately ignored, argued with or offered a half-hearted apology but there was no removal of screenings (apart from Exodus showings in some Egyptian cinemas).
In my humble opinion, this is because it does not directly benefit these cinematic organisations. Instead, they are able to keep their sales and help awarding bodies keep their prestigiousness which usually involves the exclusion of ethnic minorities. Examples of which is the thrilling Us, in which awarding bodies completely ignored the widely agreed stellar performance of Lupita Nyong’o as well as amazing cinematography throughout the whole film.
Despite these narrow examples on institutional racism, I urge any reader to do more reading into the topic. A prime British example of institutional racism is the murder of Stephen Lawrence. A case that was grossly neglected by the London MET police, despite physical evidence and eyewitness testimonies. Such testimony from Duwayne Brooks, who was there the night his friend was murdered (a racial attack), described it to The Guardian as “they treated me as a suspect – not a victim”. The case brought mass interest with the likes of Nelson Mandela coming to meet the Lawrence family. It was an indisputably massive fail by the MET police. There are other examples such as in the educational system as well, where the black community as well as other ethnic minorities are failed again and again.
Institutional racism is still prevalent today because it takes the racist ideals of individuals and they join systems where they inevitably become imbedded in society. We have a long way to go.