Hoodie UK: A new film about teenagers is set to shock every parent in Middle England
Bullying, prostitution, drugs - 'Kidulthood' shows what children really get up to when mum and dad aren't looking. Liz Hoggard reports
Sunday 19 February 2006
It promises to be the most controversial British film of the year. The Sun has already called for it to be banned and The Times has accused it of pandering to middle-class voyeurism in its portrayal of crime, bullying and sexual abuse. Set among a group of white and black teenagers in west London, from working-class and middle-class families, and based entirely on true stories, Kidulthood claims to be the first feature film to accurately reflect what life is like for urban kids.
There are graphic scenes of drug-taking, violence, casual sex and organised crime. The characters are all 15. The film opens with a middle-class schoolgirl being horrifically bullied in a classroom. When her preoccupied businessman father picks up her from school, he fails to spot the bruises. Ten minutes later, she has hanged herself. In another sequence two girls trade sexual favours with older men for pocket money to spend at Topshop. A young black boy cuts a man's throat to impress his drug-dealer uncle. Running parallel, however, are story- lines about coping with bad skin and how to choose your friends wisely.
Not surprising then that the film, out in two weeks, has divided critics. But is it an unflinching portrayal of teenage life, or a manipulative assault on the paranoid anxieties of Middle England? For one thing is sure - this film is certain to put the fear of God into parents everywhere.
"This is an essential film for all parents to see," says Sandra White, a youth and development manager with the Metropolitan Black Police Association. "You have to shock adults and young people out of apathy, and into action. We can be quite a desensitised society. Every child could be at risk because of all the influences they face, whatever their background."
Noel Clarke, who wrote the screenplay, insists it is the essential truth of his work that makes the film so controversial. "It touches a raw nerve," he says. "It's on the pulse of what's happening in society right now. Kids these days are growing up too fast."
Clarke, 30, best known for playing Billie Piper's boyfriend in Dr Who, is sure of his material. He grew up in the Ladbroke Grove and Harrow Road area of London where the film is set. His childhood bedroom is used in one scene. For a year he collected newspaper articles about teenagers in trouble, then condensed them into a 90-minute storyline, seen from their point of view.
With a cast that includes Clarke, Jamie Winstone - the teenage daughter of Ray Winstone - and Rafe Spall, son of Timothy Spall, and a "hip-hop and grime" soundtrack by Dizzee Rascal, The Streets and Lady Sovereign, Kidulthood is seriously hip. It also looks fantastic: the director of photography, Brian Tufano, shot Trainspotting and Quadrophenia. Some are predicting it will join the ranks of cult films such as City of God and La Haine. But the film-makers are adamant that style shouldn't get in the way of substance.
"You have a bullying storyline, young people coming up against issues of sex for the first time, taking drugs, dealing with teenage pregnancy," says Hannah Jolliffe of the youth website www.TheSite.org, which gives advice to young people on everything from drugs to sexual health. "What is impressive is it doesn't try to moralise."
The highly multicultural film shows that in the new Britain, all kids face the same temptations.
"The good thing about street culture is that it brings a lot of black, white and Asian people together," says White. "Unfortunately they're impressed by a very Americanised, hip-hop take on culture, full of fast cars and women who dress provocatively."
It is the middle-class parents - portrayed as work-obsessed or naively liberal - who come out worst. In one darkly comic moment, a trendy mother stands outside her 15-year-old daughter's bedroom door, blithely reminding her to "use a condom, sweetheart", unaware her daughter is being sexually harassed by a teenage boy on the other side.
In its shocking portrait of "girl-women" selling their bodies for drugs and clothes, the film points a finger squarely at our over-sexualised culture. How are teenagers to think any differently when they see stars such as Britney Spears and Paris Hilton posing as jail-bait?
Films that tackle teen gangs or cliques (Heathers, Thirteen, Kids, City of God) are the backbone of modern independent cinema. The best examples of the genre communicate with teenaged audiences in a language that they identify with, while also reminding adults what it was like. They are also a wake-up call to conservative adults.
We may not like the fact that the 11-year-old protagonist of Welcome to the Dollhouse has an under-age affair, or that the two girls in Thirteen embark on a spree of shoplifting and drug-taking, but we can see why it happens. People with nothing to lose - alienated, marginalised - do scary things.
"Bullying, happy-slapping ...whatever you name it, it is happening already," insists Clarke. "The film is highlighting that, not promoting it. It's saying, 'This is going on. Deal with it.'"
"If parents aren't aware what's going on, it's very hard to help their children go through it," agrees Jolliffe. "Films like this which promote communication can only be a good thing."
White thinks it will help adults understand the way kids think. "Many parents do not have a clue what their children are up to." The film closes with a huge teenage party in one of those chichi, double-fronted Victorian London houses we're more used to seeing in Notting Hill. Desperate to impress his peers while his parents are away, well-heeled Blake invites the whole school. In they stream, aping drunken, sexed-up adult behaviour. Violence rapidly ensues.
But for all the scenes of hedonism, Kidulthood can be surprisingly moral. Essentially it's a film about bullying: black kids bully white kids, white kids bully black kids, girls bully girls. The final message is that bullying is always unacceptable.
"Bullies are bastards aren't they?" says Winstone with feeling. "If this film makes a couple of parents go, 'Maybe I should sit down and talk to my son or my daughter more', then I think it's done its job."
'Kidulthood' is released on 3 March
Rough guide: 'I grew up here. I know what it's like'
Saadeya Sham, 21, grew up on the estate in west London where 'Kidulthood' is set
Gun crime, street violence, drug dealing, prostitution, petty theft. This is the real Notting Hill, not the fairytale version Richard Curtis presented. Growing up on a council estate at the top of Golborne Road, I know you're just as likely to brush shoulders with a crackhead stumbling down Portobello Market as a supermodel.
Kidulthood is a deeply shocking film. It reminded me of my childhood in a lot of ways. There were fights in our morning assemblies almost daily. My brother's best friend was suspended for beating up the headmistress's husband. The previous headmaster left within two years of joining. His background was in the Salvation Army but this was one social challenge too far. And this was primary school.
I was lucky that I had both my parents to keep me grounded, but most of my friends were from single-parent families. I remember a friend's mum coming into her room, picking her new jeans out of the wardrobe and hawking them door to door to tide them over the bank holiday weekend. My father's friend owns a local newsagent's and is always having stuff nicked by the same kids. The police don't seem able to do anything.
I moved to another area of London in my teens, but I kept in touch and I hear terrible stories. Friends who became drug dealers. The friend I made at an evening class who confided that he pimped teenage girls in flats near the Tube station. Friends of friends who were stabbed. The plot of Kidulthood may be exaggerated but the heart of it rings true.
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