Deptford’s Rapman: banned film is a powerful love story, not glorification of violence

Rapman poster. Pic: Harry Thompson

The Deptford director of a groundbreaking film about childhood friendships amid postcode wars in South London, controversially banned following a brawl at a screening in Birmingham and incidents at 15 other cinemas, has stressed that the work is about “love, not violence.”

Blue Story, the cinematic debut of Andrew ‘Rapman’ Onwubolu, is based on his own childhood in Deptford, and follows the life of Timmy, who lives in Lewisham but attends school in rival borough Peckham.  

Despite the director’s insistence that the film focuses on human connections, not gang violence, Vue Cinemas and Showcase Cinemas pulled the film from all of their venues after a fight broke out at the Star City multiplex in Nechells, Birmingham, on Saturday.  Vue also disclosed that there had been 25 incidents at 16 cinemas in total but stressed the decision to pull the film from 91 venues was not about the content of the fiim itself.

Rapman at Catford Mews, Lewisham. Pic: Maurice Rowan Bishop

Rapman issued a statement yesterday on Instagram saying: “Blue Story is a film about love, not violence” and said he hoped that the blame for any disturbance will be “placed with the individuals and not an indictment of the film itself.”

Statement from Rapman

At a special screening at Catford Mews, an independent cinema in Lewisham, Rapman added: “Everyone in the film is fighting for love. I could have just made a story about drugs, but life is deeper than that. I wanted to put the love out there.”   

Despite the ban, Blue Story has made £1.3 million on its opening weekend and has reached number three in the UK box office.

The film follows indirectly from Rapman’s 2017 YouTube series, Shiro’s Story, which clocked more than 20 million views. The young director’s crossover from YouTube to the big screen, representing an exciting new dynamic between creators and their audience, is a move away from traditional film industry methods.  In Greek chorus style, the director’s own rap vignettes push the story forward, helping to connect Rapman to his audience.   

Rapman, who is signed to Jay Z’s RocNation label, insists the film sends a crucial message that should be widely available to mainstream audiences. He wants viewers to see past sensationalist headlines about knife crime, and to understand how teenagers can lose their way.  

He said: “I wrote this script in 2016 and it’s still relatable today. Other than being entertaining, it’s educational. A lot of people don’t know how a young kid can turn from sweet little nerdy shy kid to someone who is ready to stab or shoot someone at the drop of a hat. Now you can see it and that helps people to know how to intervene.”  

Rapman feels passionately about championing young black actors and is keen to share his success. As a debut film with a cast drawn largely from Instagram, it is a triumph.  His own family even make appearances on screen. He said: “I feel happy that I helped to birth these news stars. The more stars we’ve got in our community, the better.”

Catford Mews is still screening the film and has no intention of stopping. Isra Al Kassi, programme manager, told Eastlondonlines: “As the first multiscreen cinema in Lewisham in a generation we felt it was important that local stories such as these are told. We are proud to not only show the film which is an incredible debut by Rapman… but also a very well made film which deserves a wide release. The film speaks directly about, and to the community of south London which we feel very connected to and have had a great response to the film in Catford Mews.”

Block Party Cinema, which celebrates black and multicultural films and organised Sunday screening event told Eastlondonlines: “Blue Story tells a powerful and touching love story with an equally strong message which is clear; senseless violence leads to nowhere. For Vue to ban the film is disappointing especially given that its message is what can help turn the lives around of many young people. Rapman has delivered on providing not just the community he grew up in but wider audiences with a fantastic film that will have significant, positive, cultural impact for years to come.”

Five teenagers including a girl, 13, were arrested in connection with the disturbance in Birmingham, which involved up to 100 young people in a public area of the multiplex, on Saturday night. One was seen wielding a machete and police brandished Tasers in an attempt to regain control.

Vue Cinemas told Eastlondonlines: “We cannot, and will not, take any risks with regard to the welfare and safety of our staff and our customers. We stand by our decision to withdraw the film from our schedule indefinitely. This decision is not, as some have alleged, based on biased assumptions or concern about the content of the film itself.”  

A spokesperson from Showcase Cinemas, which has also banned the film, said: “The safety of our guests is of the utmost importance. Due to the recent incidents tied to screenings of the film, Showcase Cinemas has immediately removed the film from all of our participating cinemas.” 

You can view Blue Story at Catford Mews in Lewisham.

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