Thursday, August 09, 2007

Black Role Models

Report on Radio 4 Today, and splashed across the front page of The Guardian something that's been around for a while, but I guess the power of the press release, timing and political pressure [ a year long government study] means oxygen of publicity: Black boys need role models beyond pop stars and bling rappers.

Circa 1993, on my last leg in SA, the same feeling prevailed. I even did the occasional mentoring talk, But South Africa is a vast country with role models a plenty, and while they are not free of social problems, the strata, the visible presence of middle class professionals will have done much to suggest alternative lifestyles for wavering youth.

In the UK you could argue that as a visible minority, the challenge is convincing a young un, that black doctors, lawyers, academics do exist. I know it sounds a naive thing to say. Working for BBC Reportage, I reported on this. The group I found were around 13 years old with guns (they wouldn't show their faces on cameras prefering to hide behind scarfs, so the editor had me drop them for something else). That was 15 years ago.

What's happening now is a generation of neglect boiling over the pot.

Recently, a group of black youngsters gathered around an editor friend of mine, amazed at what he did and that he could make a living. He drives a new model jag; their immediate thought was he was in the music business.

Where we are now is a deep seated problem and one that politically has been ignored to the point of a festering social disease. And yes it does cut both ways: parents and authorities, many believe to blame.

Politically you could choose, as has been done, to ignore it. And by that I mean not give it the full weight of attention it deserves. "Its a constricted problem. Doesn't affect the surburbs". Successive governments have done so.

The starkest most brutal comment I heard comes from a film: "Let them shoot one another". But the realisation is quickening that it's societal. Do nothing and Blade Runner's murky outlook will look like Sesame Street: no go areas and locked off areas of society.

We're not near to South Africa's model where violence has led to whole streets being walled off with security guards. What was fascinatig for me during my reporting days was how localised violence was. A side issue: Soweto was almost cheek by jowl to the Joberg and the affluence of say, Sandton but Sandton remained unblighted by the rage.

This is not exclusively a problem to do with young black boys. It exists around social, as well as class and ethnic lines - all connected in a complex but easy-to-judge matrix.

At the point that someone shoots someone else because they want that badge as a gangster; they want to do time to show how "hard" they are, you know you have a problem, and that's not a colour issue.

It's life, respect, and what the hell has gone wrong. More importantly, what's the solution?


Anonymous said...

I regularly cite your work the to students and others that I meet through teaching or networking. By directing them to the Apple site with your profile and viewmagazine. I also include Terry Jervis as well and others as well.
Recently I met with a bookwriter called Q, who has produced a feature film called ' Deadmeat ' featuring an allstar cast made up of actors and actresses. Some you will be familiar with and hopefully they may inspire a generation to look at roles infront and behind the camera.

Link to Deadmeat the film

Dr David Dunkley Gyimah said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Dr David Dunkley Gyimah said...

thanks DPN for your support.

Yes I know Terry, bumped into him recently, where we reminisced about "Behind the Beat", being the first to get MJ's Thriller movie and also his amazing cartoon strip.

And Q, I recall interviewing when I copresented on BBC GLR (B.London) in the early 90s. He'd just finished his book and was being promoted by Jeffrey Archer.

Well done him. Film making is an exciting, but often solitary goal, for which respect must be accorded the maker.

Drop me an email to come and talk to your group, if you're interested.

Anonymous said...

Hi David,

I read your article and I think you have hit the nail on the head when you say "This is not exclusively a problem to do with young black boys. It exists around social, as well as class and ethnic lines - all connected in a complex but easy-to-judge matrix.
At the point that someone shoots someone else because they want that badge as a gangster; they want to do time to show how "hard" they are, you know you have a problem, and that's not a colour issue."

There has been a lot in the British news about gun crime, and if you watch the trailer to deadmeat the movie you will see that we have guns and also a character in the movie (Oscar James) speaking out against guns.

I have had so many emails and phone calls from various people including journalists talking about the gun crime issue.

Lee Jasper, who works for the Mayor of London, is about to launch a chat show in October and he invited me on as a guest but, I declined his offer. I know Lee Personally, so there were many reasons why I declined.


The people that are going on about guns in my movie are going to get a big shock! Yes we have guns and gangs, but we also have two black cops,(MARTINA LAIRD & GEFF FRANCIS) tracking down the gangs and a group of hybrid terrorists. We have a black female gangster,(CLARE PERKINS) and a black Prime Minister(CYRIL NRI). (In the trailer we decided to play down the Prime Minister and not give the game away, but we might have to reconsider now that this whole role model debate is kicking off.)

As filmmakers the way we decided to deal with the gun crime issue, was to take a look at black culture as a whole, so we potray the lowest of the low, the female gangster and the highest moral ground, namely the Prime Minister. Yes we have gangs but we also have great black role models, lets focus on them as well, and also not all my role models are black.

I sometimes find the gun crime debate a bit too, limiting, what I mean by that is in London, we have Eastern Europeans who have come from war torn countries who are highly skilled and trained by the army in their countries to carrying gun and these guys are now on London streets.

No one talks about that.

The Russian mafia, control alot of London clubs and they carry guns. White east end gangsters, carry guns. Guy Ritchie is making another gangster movie, Nick Love is making a remake of the "The Sweeney". But when these movies come out no one is going to shout gun crime. Lock stock and two smoking barrels has guns going off all over the place, but now one said gun crime.

I suppose people just associate guns with black people.

The gangster genre, is one I like, so does Matin Scorsese.

When people watch our movie as a whole they are going to be surprised, because we have tried to push the boundaries. The fact that we got the film made, with no money from the British Funding bodies, and we have such a diverse cast is an achievement.

I think everyone involved in front and the behind the scenes in this production are great role models.

In the early 90's, in relation to your comment about myself and Jeffery Archer. I don't know if as you suggest, I was being promoted by Jeffery Archer.

Yes, I did go on TV with Mr.Archer, and we were interviewed in many mainstream broadsheets, about how we as authors had a certain skill for self publicity and how we came from different sides of the street, but, achieved success in our own ways. The media, suggested that he was my mentor.

Mr. Archer had an ability to publicise himself, and coming from the streets with no big publishing company behind me, I was keen to find out how a best selling novelist publisised himself.

I wrote to him, he wrote back and invited me to his Penthouse on the river to talk. I knew at the time, he was curious to find out new street based ideas to marketing and publiscity, but it was an opportunity for me to study old ideas marketing and self publicity and that is how it started.

I also wrote to Richard Branson who wrote back and offered me advice. I wrote and still write to all my role models.

Now a days, I suppose I look at people like Russell Simons, Damon Dash and Jay-z.

So, no, I was not promoted by Jeffery Archer, he just liked the fact that I got of my arse didn't complain about British society not giving me a break, and that I just got on with it, and he championed that fact.

Also, I introduced him to the concept of the "THE BRITISH DREAM" in America however bad that society is, they have a dream, and one only has to look at "Arnie" to see how that dream works, from body builder, to Hollywood actor, to politician.

Maybe their dream has now turned to "THE AMERICAN NIGHTMARE!" but at some stage it did exist. And as we are generally 10 years behind or cousins arcoss the water...

Where is the British Dream?

What would have become to "Arnie" if he had stayed in Great Britian? Becuase he did come here, but moved on quickly to Los Angeles.

Do the kids carrying guns see that British Dream?

Does it even exist?

If it does is it promoted?

That is what deadmeat was and is really all about, don't be deadmeat, don't let British white society view you as deadmeat, and if they do, then show them that you can raise the the bar. They don't control your game, you do!

In the 90's I wrote my book, and inspired a whole generation both white and black to self-publish and write.

It is now 2007, did I give up? was I broken by the establishment? Did I kiss arse?

No, to all of the above, and yes to the fact I achieved against all odds.





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Dr David Dunkley Gyimah said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Dr David Dunkley Gyimah said...

Hello there,

I wouldn't worry/take it personal.

The word "promote" wasn't being used in any derogatory way, and it doesn't take away from what you achieved.

I have had some terrific people in my life help in a manner where the outcome has been a win/win.

Actually as I recall at the station we all thought you did rather well at having Mr Archer involved.

Your book, look, the association with Mr A - all contributed to the good PR and column inches generated.

And while he was/still is considered a master story teller, yes he likely got some street cred from being associated with you :)

I haven't seen your film. Perhaps when Uni starts you can come and show it at a special showing to students and take the floor. Hopefully I would have seen it by then as well.

You'll be in good company. One of the last to do this, which I'll post sometime was Russell Simmons and Rev Run.

Re: debate over crime it's almost a never ending hyperlink, and any journalistic snap shot, sound bite or blogs never do it any justice.

Well done again and good stuff

Anonymous said...

Hi David could this be a person with the same agenda to bridge the digital, race, information and technology divide?

See link below

Look forward to reading your comments.