They carry guns, undergo brutal initiation ceremonies and order members to carry out acts of rape. But the latest stars of filmmakers' fascination with the world of Britain's teenage gangsters are different: they are girls.
Sket – the urban patois for "prostitute" – will explore the culture of girl gangs in East London from an insider's point of view, it was announced at the Cannes Film Festival yesterday. For added authenticity, the Damilola Taylor Trust is enlisting real-life female gang members for workshops, who will work with Sket's filmmakers on its script and music. Some will be selected to star in the drama.
There have been a number of recent film successes which captured male-on-male violence and boy gangs: Noel Clarke's edgy urban dramas, Kidulthood and Adulthood, about the lives of young gangsters in West London, became critically acclaimed for their gritty realism, while Saul Dibb's Bullet Boy focused on male gun culture and starred So Solid Crew's Asher D.
This urban thriller, focusing on violence among girls, is to be made by Gunslinger, the production arm of Revolver Entertainment, which distributed Clarke's Kidulthood, as well as David Baddiel's controversial religious comedy, The Infidel.
Filmmakers have sought the help of those violent figures whose sub-culture it seeks to expose. A number of girl gang members are to be consulted for key elements of the drama, with writing and music credits as well as meaty acting parts promised to the young contributors.
Sket's plot revolves around a young girl living in an unspecified East London estate who seeks revenge after her brother is beaten so badly by a girl gang he is left blinded. She joins a local "girl gang" to get revenge but then finds its adrenaline-fuelled criminality hard to leave behind. Despite being fictional, it will offer a provocative look at the rising tide of girl gang violence in Britain, most recently illustrated by the two members who stood accused of kicking a gay man to death, at the Old Bailey last month.
Their alleged attack was likened to Stanley Kubrick's graphic film, Clockwork Orange, for its brutality. The Damilola Taylor Trust has already started to co-ordinate workshops to provide access to gang members.
The film's central character, Kayla Richards, aged 15, who has not yet been cast, enters a girl gang after a series of initiation exercises, which include theft and violence to convince older members that she is genuinely drawn to crime and gang culture.
Nick Taussig, from Revolver Entertainment, who is producing the film, said some of the drama has already been mined from real life, such as the information on gang initiations, in which male rape often plays a part, he said. "Rape is often used as part of an initiation ritual, and supports the growing trend of female violence, women increasingly asserting themselves as men do."
Sket ends with a harrowing rape scene, which, Mr Taussig described, comes after a "power struggle between Kayla and the leader of the girl gang, Danielle, the latter asserting her dominance and authority by encouraging the other members of the gang to rape one of their boyfriends".
After a period of intensive research for a previous film made by Gunslinger called Shank, starring Adam Deacon – who also starred in Kidulthood and its follow-up, Adulthood – it became clear that dispossessed urban youths did not want a sombre "message-led" film about them. "These kids' lives are often very difficult. The director of Shank, Mo Ali, experienced real poverty growing up as a refugee in East London, and the kids made it very clear to us in workshops with them that though they wanted the truth of their lives to be depicted – which films like Adulthood and Bullet Boy did very well – they also wanted to escape, to imagine. Their lives are hard enough as it is," said Mr Taussig.
The filmmaking team was comprised to avoid an entirely white, middle-class team presenting stories about black youths: "We went to the market to say, 'What do you want?' They said, 'Our lives are pretty shit and we'd like some escapism.' They thought other films were made about them, not for them. We listened to that and wanted to make something real, something made with them," Mr Taussig added. Nirpal Bhogal, who grew up in East London and who has made the short film, Cold Kiss, will direct. Filming will begin in the summer around the area Mr Bhogal was raised in.