I went to see the film “Four Lions” on Tuesday. Produced by Chris Morris, of Brass Eye fame, it has caused a fair amount of controversy. The right-wing press have alleged that it makes fun of the memory of people who have been killed in terrorist attacks, particularly during the bombings on the London Underground.
To be fair though, this is probably to be expected. In fact, I think its safe to say that any artist who has anything meaningful to say should have a fairly uniform view of the Daily Mail, Express, et al; If they say anything about you, it better be bad, otherwise something has gone drastically wrong.
The film itself is an outstanding piece of work, the acting and writing in particular deserving of praise. The film manages to be incredibly formally, theatrical and cinematic without sacrificing rounded, human characters. It’s political message is encoded in plot and character, rather than occasional arguments between stock Trotskyist characters a la Ken Loach.
The outstanding technical quality of the piece has underlined for me exactly what I want to get out of working on “Hurr”. Although generically distinct proficiency of writing, through characterization and encoding of meaning are exactly the qualities I want to improve in my own work. The human cost of the so-called “clash of civilisations” is made clear in the film. The retreat of real Black and class politics into a range of essentially narcissist movements of “identity”, whether “Asian” or “white”; the daily misery of life for the wretched of the world is viewed from the inside and critiqued mercilessly on-screen. In short those two hours sat in the dark on a Tuesday afternoon were incredibly inspiring for me as a Black artist.
And herein is the rub, so to speak. At the height of “Asian Cool”, amidst films like “East is East” and “Bend it like Beckham” (n.b how rosy do those days of Sari, Steel band and Samosa based pseudo-multicultural racism look in the age of cultural cohesion and Preventing Violent Extremism?) artists like Parv Bancil provided a cogent, and urgently needed, Black response. Even mainstream artists like “Goodness Gracious Me”, had moments of real critique. Today it takes Chris Morris, a white man, to critique the way a black people (in this case south Asian Muslims) are presented on stage and screen.
Viewing this film made me think of my current project a fresh in two ways. Firstly, it sent me to my desk with the desire to really improve the form of my piece and find ways to concretely reveal to my audience the quality of my characters and the point of my story. But it also reminded me that if politically committed Black artists want to really hold our head up in conversation with our white comrades, we must have our own voice to speak with, to tell our own stories.