Netflix to showcase Justin Fashanu’s story, Britain’s first openly gay footballer

Justin Fashanu. Pic: Grant Stantiall

By Camille Mijola

A film about the tragic story of Hackney-born Justin Fashanu, the first openly gay British footballer has been taken up by streaming giant Netflix as it was revealed that the late star’s brother had paid him £75,000 at the time not to come out.

The directors announced the deal with Netflix at the opening night of the Fringe! Queer Film and Arts festival in Hackney on Tuesday, which kicked-off by screening their film ‘Forbidden Games: The Story of Justin Fashanu’.

Co-director Adam Burke told East London Lines: “At the moment we’re still waiting to sign a deal with an English broadcaster but we are very pleased to have done a deal with Netflix internationally so the film will be going to all territories around the world. For a film like this, with a subject matter that is so important, we’re really excited about that.”

John Fashanu. Pic: Forbidden Games

The film documents the media frenzy that surrounded the sexuality of the late football star and echoes some of the recent tabloid speculation on the sexuality of Premier League players.

John Carey, the film’s second director, told ELL: “Getting people to come out… This is a choice made by the free press… I don’t understand why it’s news, let alone front page news. It’s nobody’s business what someone’s sexuality is and that’s a leap a society has to make, as a sport or somebody’s sexuality really isn’t an issue.”

Justin Fashanu was the first black player to be transferred for a £1 million fee, moving from Norwich City to Nottingham Forest in 1981. He was also the first professional British football player to come out as gay in 1990.

After being accused of sexual assault in March 1998, Fashanu hung himself in a garage in Shoreditch that following May. He left a note apologising to his family and saying that the allegations against him were not true.

In his first press interview talking in-depth about his brother’s passing in 1998, former Wimbledon FC striker John Fashanu said: “I gave him the money because I didn’t want the embarrassment for me or my family. Had he come out now, it would be a different ball game. Things are different now. Now he’d be hailed a hero.”

Addressing the £75,000 payment, John Fashanu said that his brother took the money he offered, but still came out to the press a few days later.

Adam Burke, left, and John Carey at the Rio Cinema. Pic: Camille Mijola

Burke said: “We’ve had a lot of talks with English broadcasters but it has been really disappointing that no one’s taken up the film. I felt that for some of those broadcasters the film was too controversial. A little bit too hot. That’s the sense that we got from one in particular that we don’t mention by name. They were very keen and took a backward step.”

Netflix has released several documentaries featuring LGBT stories during the past few years and according to a report by GLAAD, a US non-governmental media monitoring organisation for LGBT acceptance, “there are more LGBT characters on TV than ever before.”

The Fringe! Queer Film and Arts festival, running from November 14-19 in Hackney, will feature a variety of performances, film screenings and workshops.

Listen to interviews with Fringe! Head Programmer Muffin Hix and filmmaker Roman Manfredi here with ELL reporter Lisa Hack:

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