Chances are, if you’ve ever heard of Blue Story, the connection will be forever linked to the incident in November 2019. Through our TV screens and social media feeds, the news quickly filtered; a fight broke out in Star City in Birmingham, the local police were attacked by a macheting-carrying group, and several teenagers were arrested. The alleged cause of this public disorder and disruption was tied to Rapman’s (real name Andrew Onwubolu) new film, leading Vue and Showcase to make the unprecedented decision to ban the film from their cinemas around the country.
Like the gift of prophecy, the banning only illustrated the problematic stigmas associated with the media and Black representation, and without seeing the film, the conversations soon escalated to the glamorisation of gang culture (and its subsequent violence) and whether it should be an acceptable form of entertainment. And while that doesn’t excuse the trouble caused on that fateful evening back in November, to label that at Blue Story’s door was unfair and unjustified, especially when the argument was used to uphold the ban and punish the film in the process.
It’s sad to think about that association, but it’s also important to acknowledge that context because it is only one half of the story. Controversy aside, once you begin to lift the veil off from those clouded eyes and start to pay attention to Blue Story’s scope and range, the more poignant its reality starts to hit home. Confidently executed as a cautionary tale that is part Rap interlude, part coming of age and almost Shakespearian in some quarters, Rapman, excels where most films tend to stereotype. For that reason alone, Blue Story is a self-assured feature-length debut by the young artist.
Written and directed by Rapman, Blue Story is the tragic tale of Marco (Michael Ward) and Timmy (Stephen Odubola), two friends caught up in a postcode war between rival gangs in South London. On the surface, the premise sounds resoundingly simple and straightforward, but it effectively strays away from any Hollywood overtures with an ‘up close and personal’ documentary account of events.
It’s a subject matter that taps into Rapman’s core strengths. Rising to stardom as a rapper/actor now turned writer and director, he utilises the same techniques and rap-based narration that can be found on his successful Youtube shorts Shiro’s Story. And by bringing that recognisable dynamic to the table and incorporating his own childhood experience (in which Blue Story is based on), not only enhances the authenticity of the story but his lyrical ‘pause for thoughts’ adds a freshness to the genre without being a detriment to its overall narrative.
Rapman’s script does tend to venture into missed opportunities; character development (most notably with its supporting cast) can be underdeveloped at times. For a steady, 91-minute runtime, the dramatized changes between friendship to enemies are delivered with a whiplash pace, meaning more room for the ‘tit-for-tat’ escalation but less time to delve deeper into the emotional and consequential aftermath. But the sterling performances of Michael Ward (this year’s BAFTA EE Rising Star award winner) and Stephen Odubola, help underline the core grasp of Blue Story’s perspective, highlighting how easy it is to get swept up in the psychological madness of gang culture and enduring the damaging relationships it cultivates.
That tragic point is driven home by its overwhelming sense of lost innocence – wasted potential and ambitions, the toxic mentality of payback, the sheer emptiness of the culture itself with victims caught in the crossfire – all being fuelled by the unrelenting dread of a never-ending war. If Blue Story leaves us with any sense of morality, then it’s the frivolity of it all, hammered home by some harrowing scenes which capture the traumatic horrors for those involved.
The message will undoubtedly be familiar-sounding – Blue Story has been done before, and it won’t be the last of its generation, but that doesn’t stop the hard-hitting honesty that runs through its veins.
Through rhyme and reason with Rapman in his element, Blue Story is a carefully articulated piece of art that should be judged on its own merits. And if you still feel that this film glamorises gang culture, then you haven’t been paying attention.
Dir: Rapman (Andrew Onwubolu)
Scr: Rapman (Andrew Onwubolu)
Cast: Stephen Odubola, Micheal Ward, Khali Best, Karla-Simone Spence, Eric Kofi-Abrefa, Kadeem Ramsay, Jo Martin
Prd: Joy Gharoro-Akpojotor, Damian Jones
DOP: Simon Stolland
Music: Jonathon Deering
Runtime: 91 mins
Blue Story is available to download and keep from 13th April and on DVD from 20th April.