To maintain my sanity, rather than get into a pointless argument, I’m having to just laugh wryly at the randoms who like to say: “Stop making everything about politics….” (whilst also noting that they’re usually the same people who say: “Stop making everything about race…” …). So it was refreshing to be privy to a grown up conversation this evening, as I watched the absolutely marvellous journalist, Emily Maitlis in action on BBC Newsnight, brilliantly taking the Tory Minister for Business and Industry, Nadhim Zahawi, to task over the government’s lack of timely and effective action around the coronavirus and its blatant Trump-esque strategy of misleading the public over everything from the amount of testing and protective equipment available for NHS staff, to the number of ventilators being produced and when they will be ready to use.
The clip below (at the very bottom of this page) gives just a little taster of her holding his feet to the fire, after he’d first tried desperately to continue the misinformation (i.e. lies….) and then tried to simply dodge the questions. Emily most certainly wasn’t there for that.
Politics is everywhere. The whole reason we vote is to try to secure a government and leader that we believe will do the best for our country and/or ourselves (depending on the kind of person you are…). And as I said in response to someone the other day, we can only be eternally grateful that this global health crisis didn’t occur a couple of years later, after the Tories had gone even further with their systematic dismantling of the NHS, towards the full privatisation of the NHS that they’ve been stealthy working towards, or we’d be in even bigger dire straits than we are right now. The Tory’s significant disinvestment in the NHS (to grind it into the ground and make it easier to sell off ‘failing’ elements in chunks…) combined with the appalling treatment of staff – encapsulated by the video doing the rounds, which shows Tory MPs cheering in Parliament, after they’d blocked Jeremy Corbyn’s bid to give nurses a proper pay rise – as well as uncertainties over Brexit and the government’s unashamedly hostile environment towards immigrants, has contributed to us losing more than 200,000 nurses over the last ten years under the Conservatives, as well as loosing between 15,000 and 17,000 hospital beds (depending on how you read the figures…). So how ironic/sad that we now need an emergency recruitment drive to bring back NHS staff who have left or retired, as well as a call for the public to volunteer. Yes, we most surely would have needed additional resources to deal with a crisis this severe. However, with a healthier NHS, we would have been starting from a much, much stronger position. So….
* It is political: Only a few weeks ago, the Tory government was downplaying the value of many migrant workers when drawing up their Brexit guidelines, classing them as unskilled and, by implication, totally superfluous and without real valuable. Yet, these are the very same workers the country is now reliant on during this time – people working in social care, in supermarkets, as cleaners, and many more jobs that are too easily dismissed and looked down on, but the country would grind to a halt without. How we treat them, all the time, not just at times of crisis, is definitely political.
* It is political: If we’d had better political leadership, self-isolating and the real, definitive closure of non-essential businesses and public spaces would’ve been made mandatory many weeks ago, instead of putting the onus on business owners to make that decision. I don’t need to be an ‘expert’, as someone implied, to know that it’s ridiculous for the government to seriously suggest that construction workers can self-isolate on building site (for the record, I did actually used to do PR for a major construction company, so I’ve been on many building sites in my time. But anyone with eyes and a tad of common sense can see and understand how closely construction workers need to be to each other, simply to get their job done.) We (me included) are all quick to jump to outraged conclusions when we see people still commuting into work every day – but the reality is that a significant number of people work at non-key companies but have management that is still insisting they go in. That our government hasn’t put a stop to that – when they know that China had to order a COMPLETE shutdown of EVERYTHING, in order to contain the virus and limit the number of deaths as best they could – is political.
* It is political: It’s been estimated that we will need 25,000 ventilators to deal with this pandemic at its peak. Last month, we had 5,000 and the government said that it was speaking to manufactures to source the rest quickly. However, since then, it’s only increased to 8,000. On Newsnight, the MD of MEC Medical – an existing supplier of parts for ventilators – said that he got no response when he contacted the government weeks ago. Other existing suppliers have said the same on twitter. Their point is that – as they already have the specs and templates to make the parts for the ventilator, it would have been substantially quicker for the government to support them significantly increasing their existing productions. Additionally, Britain – for some bizarre reason – refused to join a Europe-wide ventilator procurement scheme (WTF!!!). Instead, the government wasted time and money enrolling well-known Brexiteer Dyson to build ventilators from scratch, which required a period of R&D on Dyson’s part before they could even get started, Secondary, and weeks later, seems to have come the setting up of a manufacturing consortium which now includes the existing suppliers. However, this really doesn’t seem to been the exercise in ‘urgency’ that it clearly needed to be.
I’ll leave with a summary of Emily Maitlis’ comments to Nadhim Zahawi, that are shown in the clip below. But the entire interview (Newsnight, Wednesday 25th March 2020), is worth seeking out:
“Boris Johnson told us eight days ago that it would be ramping up to 25,000 tests a day… It’s inconceivable that your front-line staff, the people protecting us and putting their lives at risk, are not getting tested for the virus. How can that still be happening?…
“Be honest, you’re not going to get up to 25,000 tests a day, are you?
“If the government said ‘we can’t provide the tests’ it would be one thing, but the government hasn’t said that. It said, nine days ago, ‘we’ll do 25,000 a day. And you’ve just told me that you’ve gone from 5,000 to 6,000 in the space of a week…
“…NHS staff, as you heard, are using bin bags as aprons, using classroom goggles from their kids’ schools, setting up charities to get the public to help because they haven’t got protective uniforms. Aren’t you ashamed of that?
“This isn’t the first day they’ve been saying this. They’ve been telling you this for weeks. You must’ve looked, as a government minister, at Wuhan. You must’ve looked at the Chinese building hospitals in six days. You must’ve looked at the kind of protective clothing being used there. How could that not compute into being something that you had to have ready here, in this country, months ago?”
Delighted to have just seen the comedy feature, Late Night. Written by the fabulous Mindy Kaling, who also stars in it alongside Emma Thompson, Late Night is the story of a curmudgeonly chat show host, Katherine Newbury, (played by Emma) whose show is dying on its arse, mainly due to her condescending outlook on the world and the complacency of her writers – who, after years of being terrified of her, have become comfortable not challenging her and simply cashing their fat cheques.
When Katherine is warned that her show needs to up its game – including making the all white male writers room more diverse – Molly Patel (Mindy), an ambitious wanna-be-TV-writer and random interviewee, ends up being given the job. Both on the assumption that she’ll only last a few weeks, and to the chagrin of stalwart show writer, Tom Campbell (played by Reid Scott) who assumed his younger brother was a shoe-in for the position.
Hard-working Molly immediately ruffles feathers, with her far-too-honest answers to questions about the show’s flaws, and her questions about the working practices and the other writers’ blind obedience to it. OK, the end result of the film is – in hindsight – a little bit predictable. But the journey there isn’t. And some of the dialogue is just, just so great.
Late Night is funny and irreverent, whilst also really managing to pull heart strings with its secondary storyline (which I won’t give away). It brilliantly addresses head-on the prejudices around inclusivity initiatives in the workplace. Including the sort of snide comments that people of colour, like myself, are well aware are regularly being made.
At one point, one of the white male writers says: “Right now, it’s a hostile environment to be an educated white male.” While another says: “I wish I was a woman of colour, so that I could get any job I want.”
On overhearing one of them, Molly retorts: “I’d rather be a diversity hire than a nepotism hire. At least I had to beat all the other diverse people. You just had to be born.”
OK, obviously not everyone in the media industry got there through nepotism. Plus, as Katherine points out, regardless of how you get there, you then have to prove yourself. But it was just brilliantly refreshing to see these issues addressed head on and with humour. Let’s be honest: We all know they’re bubbling under the surface in offices all around the country. And what better way to address the elephant-in-the-room, than with comedy!
Interestedly, and kind of to my point, after the film finished, I overheard a nearby audience member – a white woman – saying that she thought the issue had been over-egged. To me, that demonstrates exactly why we need a diverse range of people reviewing the arts. Clearly, the film didn’t speak to her in the same way that it spoke to me, which is totally fair enough. But, personally, I thought it was candid, timely and very, very funny.
Great night watching a preview of Beats, a coming-of-age bromance that sees the nervous, down-trodden, Jonno, and his best mate, the seemingly-simple, Spanner, plan one night of madness together before they’re forced to come to terms with the cards that life has dealt them.
Jonno is being moved away from his Glasgow estate and life as he knows it, to a Barrett new-build house, with his mum, little brother and her new boyfriend – who happens to be a copper. Spanner, is at the mercy of his drug-dealing, bully of a big brother, whose antics have led to the whole family being branded as ‘scum’.
Set in 1994, the year that the Criminal Justice Act was introduced, banning public gatherings where music with ‘repetitive beats’ was played – this is more than a rave culture movie, it’s a quietly political look at what the director and co-writer, Brian Welsh, described as the beginnings of the erosion of civil liberties, overseen by Tony Blair, amongst others, who in the same year took over leadership of the Labour Party, following John Smith’s sudden and heartbreaking death from a heart attack. News clips, including speeches by Blair, play out on televisions in the background, throughout. Brian recalls the feeling of hope when Blair first took the role – and how that was soon replaced by the feeling that the Labour party was turning into another version of the Tories.
Co-writer and director, Brian Welsh (second from left), Amy Manson, who plays Cat (2nd from the right) and producer, Camilla Bray (far right), at the BFI preview of Beats – Monday, 13th May 2019.
We follow Jonno and Spanner, as they try to make sense of their place in the world – and their soon-to-be torn apart friendship. We watch as they try to stand up for themselves and their independence – in their own little way – and as they’re taken under the wing of Spanner’s cousin, Wendy, and her two friends, Alison and Cat, all looking to reach the Holy Grail of escapism: An illegal rave.
Strikingly-shot, Brian explained that they removed the words ‘black and white’ from the script, in order to get funding, and let it be a surprise when they sent the first cuts through for people to view. He had to argue to keep it that way – but it was definitely an argument worth having.
Other ‘fights’ along the way included finding budget to hold a genuine free rave, for 1,000 people. The producer, Camilla Bray, recalls the phone call when Brian told her that he was seriously upping the ante, from the original idea of shooting in pre-existing club nights, and editing footage together, and instead going all in, to create the real thing. It was an expensive risk – but one worth taking, as it feels totally genuine (and I was at the original raves, back in the 80s, so…).
One thing that hadn’t occurred to me was how much dancing styles have changed in the intervening years. But Amy Mason, who plays Cat, explained that the cast had a day of dance instruction, to get their mind out of today’s slut-drop, twerking kind of moves, and into the ‘big box, little box’ mindset. Brian pointed out that as this was pre-our obsession with mobile phones, everyone was less self-conscious and freer with themselves. It was pure, let-yourself-go dancing, rather than pouting. So, they also sent a clip of what they were looking for, in advance to all of the extras who were going to the rave, so that they knew to loosen up.
The result, combined with a stonking soundtrack of dance classics, takes over the film at one point, with what must be a good five minutes (seriously) given over to a pure, sonically- and visually-indulgent moment, that could easily be cut out of the film and sit as a music video by itself. Despite it being set to rave tunes, there’s something very tranquil (or perhaps that’s just trippy…) about it – and it’s a lovely calm-before-the-storm moment, that is done very well. I’m surprised (but delighted) Brian wasn’t forced to edit it out, or at least significantly down.
The film is based on a play by Keiran Hurley, who went on to co-write this with Brian. I didn’t see it on stage, unfortunately, but I love the way that they’ve brought Tommo and Spanner’s characters and relationship to life on screen – played with aplomb, humour and heart, by Cristian Ortega and Lorn Macdonald. You feel their heartache and their joy, as well as their love for each other.
As the boys often say themselves: “It’s magic”.
Beats is on general release from Friday, 17th May 2019. Sadly, we’ll have to wait until September before we can get our hands on the official soundtrack. However, there are some mixes available on mixcloud.
Despite being desperate to see this, when it finally came out in the UK, it turned out that I was too scared. Not because of the potential horror. Bring that on. But more, I reckon, because of the potential disappointment.
Well, at midnight, a month after its UK release, I’ve just walked out of a Friday night, 10pm screening.
It has the best bits of all the great horror stories, and more. Whilst also having horror-humour reminiscent of The Shining. It was scary and funny, clichéd and original. And combined, that was an even more brilliant package! For me, it totally earned its two hours of screen time!
Every time I thought I’d got the measure of it, and started to relax, thinking it was getting a little bit predictable – it threw me a curveball. Right to the very end.
I loved it.
Written, directed and produced by one man – the ‘comedy guy’, Jordan Peele – you are left in no doubt that this person is an astute student and lover of films. And he intertwines the lessons he’s learnt so well, that when you do notice you also see the playfulness of it.
You know that some people were thinking: Yeh, he did the wonderful Get Out. But could he do that again. Erm, yep!
And the ultimate beauty is: Us, isn’t a ‘black film’. It’s a brilliant horror-comedy, which happens to have a normal black family at its centre.
Dad is goofy, teenage daughter is eye-rolling, little brother is annoying and mum is overly-protective. Until you realise, she really isn’t!
It’s so normal that it’s wonderful. But it’s also not normal at all. It straddles the line between horror and comedy, black and white, beautifully.
But, the fact that these black people are so normal – and that the normality is noticed and commented on – is exactly why it’s such a big deal. So, never, ever underestimate that.
Lupita Nyong’o is brilliant. But, I have to say, so are the rest of the cast. Especially, Shahadi Wright Joseph, who shines as the daughter, Zora – and more. (No spoilers here!)
I’ve just heard the sad news that the legendary DJ Paul ‘Trouble’ Anderson passed away this morning. His influence on the music and clubbing experience of my formative years, and beyond, has been huge.
From listening to him on the pirate radio station, Kiss FM, as I drove around South East London in my school mates’ souped-up cars or on mix-tapes at brilliant/dodgy house parties, when I was aged about 15/16 years old onwards; to the amazement and joy of being able to see and dance to him live at clubs such as Bar Rumba, Bagleys, Ministry of Sound and the Blue Note.
Mr Paul ‘Trouble-funk’ Anderson was undoubtably a core part of the soundtrack of my youth and beyond. I must admit, some of the years – and club nights – have kinda blurred into a one, but the feelings of euphoria and awe that he consistently delivered remain as sharp and wonderful as ever. In fact, the memories are making me smile right now, while I type.
Massive respect to writer-director, Debbie Tucker Green, for her play ‘ear for eye’, performed at the Royal Court Theatre by an outstanding cast.
A whip-smart, often poetic, sometimes funny, definitely poignant look at current and historic racism, oppression and double standards in the UK and US, and demonstrating the long-lasting, far-reaching impact.
So many elements resinonated about life today but particularly impactful was a reminder of the not-so-long-ago segregation laws across the US – which were punishable by imprisonment and which really made me think that it’s no wonder some white people (white nationalists) truly believe they’re superior. It was ingrained into legislation and everyday thinking and then passed down by their grandparents…
Plus the British Slave Code, imposed on its colony of Jamaica (where my mum’s from) which essentially stopped black people from being self sefficient, e.g. preventing ‘negros’ from owning anything, or hunting for their own food, or leaving their ‘owners’ vecinity without written permission. Which makes me think that any positive discrimination which takes place today – something that I’ve benefited from but sometimes struggle with – is totally justified. It really wasn’t a level playing field, in any way, for many, many years.
The film opens with a black family sitting around the dinner table. Mother – Lisa (played by Regina Hall), father – Mav (Russell Hornsby), a teenage boy – Seven (Lamar Johnson) and 16-year old girl – Starr (Amandla Stenberg) as well as a young boy – Sekani (TJ Wright). The father is giving the kids ‘the talk’. Mum tries to brush it off, save it for another day. But dad is insistent. He’s determined to protect his children. So, he asks them again. What do they do if they’re in a car that gets stopped by the police? All three kids know the answer. And show him. They put their hands on the imaginary car dashboard. They don’t move an inch. Do absolutely nothing to give a policeman any reason to get nervous and start shooting.
Yes, we’re in the United States of America.
Starr (Amandla Stenberg) and her boyfriend, Chris (K.J. Apa)
Mav and Lisa were childhood sweethearts. Apart from one small hiccup, when they broke up for a short while, they’ve been together for donkey’s years and their love for each other and their family is rock solid. The only thing they disagree on is where they live. Lisa wants to get out of their neighbourhood, Garden Heights, to escape the violence. Whereas Mav believes in staying faithful to your roots and your community. So, they’ve stayed put – but compromised by putting Starr into Williamson Prep, a private school in a posh district. A school where the kids don’t carry weapons, like they do in Garden Heights. Starr’s a smart cookie, works hard, can get on with anyone and fit into anywhere. But it does mean that she leads two different lives, using two different personas. There’s ‘Garden Heights Starr’ and ‘Williamson Starr’. At school, she has a great gang of girlfriends and a lovely, adoring boyfriend. All of whom are white. That isn’t really a problem – although, she has been putting off taking her boyfriend home, despite his numerous requests to meet her parents. One weekend, after Starr’s old friends from home have been teasing her about her ‘other life’ and never hanging out anymore, she agrees to go to a house party with them. There she bumps into an old friend, Khalil, her first ‘boyfriend’ when she was growing up. Just as they’re catching up, gunshots ring out and everyone at the party scatters. Khalil gets Starr into his car and drives them both away. Once they’re at a safe distance, they relax and start talking, reminiscing and enjoying each other’s company – until they’re pulled over by police.
Starr (Amandla Stenberg) and Khalil (Algee Smith)
What follows sets off a massive chain of events that forces Starr to decide how far she will put herself in danger to fight for justice for her friend, whilst also drawing out the casual racism of some of her Williamson friends. It shines a blindingly-bright light on the impact of police brutality and of violence from members of the community, plus demonstrates how unconscious bias can sneak into everyday thinking.
At one point earlier, Khalil is playing Tupac in his car and when Starr teases him, he explains the late rapper’s philosophy to her: The ‘THUG life’ tattoo and saying that Tupac was so well known for, actually stands for ‘The Hate U Give’. The longer version being, “The Hate U Give little kids fucks everyone”. Tupac was referring to the cycle of violence that stems from young children growing up witnessing and experiencing violence – from official authority figures, to local gangsters – which leads them, in turn to lead a violent life, too. The background sound is me, hearing the nail being hit firmly on the head. (No sarcasm intended, I’m genuinely overwhelmed by the spot-on simplicity of it.)
Throughout the film, Mav is a man put to the test. Giving all he’s got, trying to protect his family from both the police and the local gangsters, and all the while also trying to set a good example for them. In turn, Starr’s double-life comes to a head, as it becomes impossible for her to keep the two strands separate – whether she wants to or not.
To say that this film is ‘deep’ feels trite. But it really is.
I hadn’t heard of Tupac’s THUG life philosophy before this. I’m ashamed to say I never realised that’s what it meant, and had simply assumed that he was glorifying the gangster life, when actually it was the opposite. No wonder people think he was a genius.
The Hate U Give is packed full of emotion and the message it carries couldn’t be stronger or more poignant.
Yes, there is much joy and positivity to be got from the family life that we see Lisa and Mav give their kids, and the friendship and young love that Starr has with her mates and boyfriend. But, ultimately, this film is filled with moments of raw fear, anger and heartbreak. Moments that will make you want to march. Moments that will make you want to cry.
Beautifully directed by George Tillman (who also directed The Inevitable Defeat of Mister and Pete, which I reviewed five years ago and loved) the cast is outstanding, in particular Amandla Stenberg as Starr and Russell Hornsby as Mav. But, really, I could name them all.
Interestingly, this screenplay – written by Audrey Wells – is based on a young adult book of the same name, by Angie Thomas. Right now is where’d I’d normally quip that ‘that young people have never had it so good…’ but, after watching this, you realise the multitude of pressures and influences they face. And the responsibility we adults have to do better by them.
It kicks off with an extensive, frenetic trigger-warning, advising that the film – set around the lives of four American high school girls – contains pretty much everything that could freak out the squeamish or easily-offended. Essentially, strap yourselves in, viewers. Beverley Hills 90210, this most definitely is not!
To really nail the point, Lily’s voice-over tells us that this is the story of how her home town of Salem “lost its mother-fucking mind!”
And what an understatement that turns out to be.
Lily, Bex, Sarah, and Em – brilliantly acted by Odessa Young, Hari Nef, Suki Waterhouse and Abra – are four ultra-modern, attractive and popular adolescent BFFs who do the usual things that ultra-modern, attractive and popular adolescent BFFs do: Hang out at each other’s houses, hang out at school, talk about boys and boyfriends – “Guys who don’t eat pussy in this day and age are borderline psychopaths” – go to house parties, take recreational drugs with their mates and send illicit sex-texts.
But when someone starts hacking the mobile phones and computers of prominent people in the town, releasing all of their messages, images and internet searches and revealing all sorts of secrets, things get pretty damn crazy, pretty damn quickly.
Wonderful writing and direction by Sam Levinson are complemented by brilliant cinematography by Marcell Rév and editing by Ron Patane, using multiple split screens, camera techniques and points-of-view. This smart, fast-paced, innovative movie is about so much more than just some hot girls in short skirts, titillating viewers. Despite what the guy squirming next to me in the cinema might have initially thought during earlier scenes, any misconceptions of that kind were well and truly dashed by the end of the film.
This is a mirror-holding look at a judgemental society, seen through a very modern lens. The fear, suspicion and moral-outrage caused by the hacks, bring with them anger, mob-rule and the usually-unthinkable. A chilling reflection of current times, some might say.
Assassination Nation examines sexuality, misogyny, homophobia, transphobia, moral standards, the right-to-bear-arms, hypocrisy and day-to-day bigotry – and all in a blaze of glory. And despite being a totally in-your-face movie, it also manages to have some really great moments of subtlety, including the way it first introduces transgender issues.
OK, it’s not perfect. There were a few clichéd moments, but I absolutely loved this movie (and perhaps even more so for its occasional cliché). Full of sass, wit, some great twists and enough jumps to make you lose all of your popcorn, it’s an empowering tale of sisterhood that will have your heart racing, your mind blown and every ounce of your body cheering.
I walked out of the cinema, looking for somewhere to buy a red trench coat.