A guy gets a white girlfriend and everything turns to shit. A Brixton Tale is about Leah and Benji, teenagers from opposite sides of the city, who meet and begin a relationship. But the pressures of racism and class are present from the very beginning and threaten doom.
I spent the whole of this film waiting for disaster, from the very first shots you see exactly where this is going. Several of the other characters do to, and try to warn Benji, but all to no avail. It’s like slowly falling down a spiral staircase, and hitting the occasional landing hoping you’ve passed the worst, only to keep on reeling downwards.
Leah from the first is shown to have an objectifying gaze and be motivated by her own self-interest. She’s a white, middle-class lassie who wants to be a filmmaker, and she decides to film a ‘gritty’ subject by slumming it in Brixton. There she meets Benji, who she is drawn to both as a subject and a lover. Benji is genuinely smitten with her, but to be honest, Leah doesn’t even see him really. She sees the racist stereotype in her head that she can exploit for her film.
She films Benji smoking a spliff, snorting cocaine, getting into a fight, getting nicked by the police, and getting the crap kicked out of him in a rival neighbourhood. What she fails to show in the film is she gave him the spliff, she gave him the cocaine, Benji was only defending her in a fight between her and her ex, and she’s the one who talked shit to the police, getting them nicked, then dropped off in a rival scheme, primed for a kicking. She is moulding Benji into the racist stereotype she wants, both for her film and for her rebellion statement lover.
The worst thing about this is, Benji wants to be that for her too. He becomes ashamed of being a nice boy who plays video games in his room with his mate and goes fishing, steers clear of trouble, and really isn’t that tough. He wants to be this hypermasculinised idea she has of him. It’s fucking awful to watch.
And you don’t need me to tell you where this is heading. She exhibits her work, to rounds of applause from the wealthy, white, middle-class, art intelligentsia, for its unflinching look at the reality of urban youth, a reality they crave and have created for a narrative too narrow to encompass the full humanity of others. The whole thing is a circlejerk of patronising paternalistic self-congratulation on exposing themselves to the exotic and other, disguised as awareness-raising. Boke.
Meanwhile Benji is devastated. Horrified at seeing himself through her eyes. He’s ashamed for his mum to see it. It depicts him as just a string of criminal behaviours, with no thought to consequence of making something like that public with an uncensored identity. The whole thing is a shitshow.
And this was the first landing upon which I fell, bruised and hoping I’d come to the end of my descent. But no, this is about the halfway point of the film, and things just get worse from there.
This film is very much a rebuttal to delusions of a post-race world, or a new Britain, or the classless society. It kinda reminds me a bit of Blood Brothers, because everything Leah and Benji do, they do together, but the repercussions are very, very different.
It’s always a question for me to what extent Leah knows what she’s doing to Benji’s life, and if she sincerely cares for him at all. I think it’s kinda worse if she does, because then she is literally just a cat with a can tied to her tail, barrelling into Benji’s life with no idea of the carnage she’s dragging with her. If she is consciously manipulating him, it takes away from the inevitability of this demise.
In their own way, both characters are hopelessly naïve, and blind to the powder keg they’re dancing on. There is a mutual mirror there of their own hopefulness about the connection that is stripped from them as things play out. And where they end up seems like where they were always going to end up.