“This is going on. Deal with it.”- Noel Clark
How realistic is the representation of British youths in ‘Kidulthood’?
In the 1940’s we saw the legend Elvis Presley shaking his pelvis at the audience, in 1955 we saw James Dean as a rebellious teenager in ‘Rebel without a cause’ and most recently in 2006, we see ‘Kidulthood’ with its underage drinking, drug taking, sexually active, violent British youths. (1) Over a number of years, the ways in which youths have been represented in the media has developed and changed to a great extent, it is arguable that all innocence has been taken away from the term ‘teenager’ and instead is left with nothing but a delinquent label, a drastic rise in teenage pregnancy, underage binge drinking and drug taking. Today, Britain has arrived at a society where teenagers are seen as a threat to many. Or, is this all simply the effect of the repeated use of negative stereotypes and the magnification of the group through sensational reporting, leading to moral panic (2) as Jock Young and Stan Cohen would suggest.
‘Kidulthood’ (2006) directed by Menhaj Huda is a low budget, independent drama based on two days in the life of a group of fifteen-year-old teenagers from a school in West London. The first thing we see in the film is a playground full of drug taking, sexually active, delinquent teenagers, this juxtaposition instantly subverts all traditional connotations of a playground and sets the audience up for what is to be shown in the rest of the film. After being bullied by fellow classmates, a white, middle- class teenage girl commits suicide and as a result of this, students are given a day off school to reflect. The audience would expect this to be a day where the students mourn for the loss of their classmate however, activities the group take part are the complete opposite. Clearly, the film is presenting to the audience, a negative representation of teenagers throughout however, critics argue the extent to which this representation is reflective of British society. There are a number of arguments which suggest that the issues raised in the film are 1the magnification of a small minority of delinquent youths used to create a moral panic however, others argue that the film is simply raising awareness of what is happening in today’s British society and that ‘ This is going on. So deal with it, ’ as quoted by Noel Clarke- scriptwriter. (3)
Director ‘Menhaj Huda’ grew up in West London (4), this is where the film is set and so he has first- hand experience of being a British youth from West London, his experience can be used to argue that what the audience are presented with is directed from the perspective of an ‘insider’ rather than an ‘ outsider.’ This creates a sense of authenticity to the film as it is from the perspective of an experienced insider. A text which is of a similar nature to ‘ Kidulthood’ is ‘Bullet Boy (2002).’(5) However, the director ‘Saul Dibb’ created a film that aims to reflect the lives of black people, critics question whether a white director can accurately reflect the views of black people, effectively, this is not the case in ‘Kidulthood’ as ‘Menhaj Huda’ has experienced being a teenager in West London therefore it can be argued that what we are shown is a realistic representation of British youths. Another aspect adding authenticity to the film is the fact that it employed non- professional actors and instead regular British teenagers. Furthermore, the actors are acting out what they are experiencing in reality rather than acting as a profession and so it can be argued that their acting contains authenticity. However, when being given the script, protagonist, Alisia who plays the role of a pregnant teenager in the film replied, "oh my gosh these children are really bad!" (6) Suggesting that even to a regular British teenger, the script is shockingly unrealsitic.
The narrative which the film follows is based on real life experiences and stories as quoted by Noel Clarke (7), scriptwriter and actor, therefore if what is taking place in the film is based on real experiences, this must mean that the film does infact contain aspects of reality on screen.
Issues raised in the film include binge drinking, teenage pregancy, underage sex and violence. Many of these issues have become apparent within the media, statistics show that the number of teenage pregnancies has risen over the past few years, 3,514 abortions were carried out on girls under 16 years old in 2002. Source: Melanie Johnson, House of Commons, 8 March 2004. (8) These figures clearly state that increasing numbers of teenage girls are having underage sex and getting pregnant as a consequence, therefore representing this issue in the film is simply reflecting a change which has taken place in society and raising awareness so that these problems can be resolved.
There has also been a rise in underage binge drinking Lib Dem MP Paul Burstow, a member of the Commons Health Committee said, "The number of children being admitted to hospital for alcohol related disease is shocking and shows that binge-drinking amongst teenagers is completely out of control.” (9) Concern has grown in recent years about the effects of binge drinking on the nation's health, as well as fears about rising anti-social behaviour. Underage binge drinking is one of the key issues raised in the film, this is reflective of British society as underage binge drinking is a rising problem.
Youths represented in the film are hood- wearing, anti social youngsters. Tory Leader David Cameron seems to have come up with "Hug a hoodie, power to the police".(10) In a brace of speeches on law and order, Mr Cameron suggests hood wearing youngsters are often the product of their social and family backgrounds.While anti-social youngsters should feel "painful" consequences of their actions, there is still a need to "show a lot more love". In what is seen as an attempt to balance the message, he also insists the public want the police to be "crime fighters, not form fillers. A force as well as a service". (11) However, The Conservatives have objected to this course, saying the government should not try to run people's lives.Conservative policy director Oliver Letwin said: "The answer is not more state intervention. It is to encourage the social enterprise, the voluntary sector, community groups, to help people without trying to run their lives for them." This suggests that to members of the government, teenagers are seen as a threat to society and they are trying to find a suitable way in which to solve this issue. (12) The ‘ stereotypes’ which are shown in ‘ Kidulthood’ of the deviant working class teenager do exist, this is not only in the film. Another text which I have looked at is ‘ Rebel without a cause’ (1995). It is noticable that similar issues are rasied in this film for example, underage drinking. This film was made in 1995 and contemporarily in 2006, ‘Kidulthood’ reflects the same issues, consequently it is clear that these issues must contain aspects of reality as they are being represented worldwide within the film industry, however the ways in which the issues are portrayed in ‘Kidulthood’ is more explicit compared to the way in which they are presented in both ‘ Bullet Boy’ and ‘Rebel without a cause, ’ this again may be to create a moral panic within society and encourage actions to be taken place.
‘Kidulthood’ is a low budget, independent arthouse film. The distributor of ‘Kidulthood’ received its funding from UK film council. Revolver received £76,200 which supported the production of an additional 20 prints aswell as advertising specific to the teenage target audience- this was part an attempt which aims to bring a broader range of films to audiences across the United Kingdom. (13) ‘Menhaj Huda’ used a low budget of £600,000 to make the arthouse film. He avoided the use of a costume designer as each character only had two costumes. Also, he had no make- up designer. This adds to authenticity and reduces the idea of thinking that the film is glamouised i.e unrealistic.
The above are the many arguments which support the view that ‘Kidulthood’ reflects a realistic view of British society however there are also opposing arguments which support the latter which is that the representation of Britsish youths in ‘Kidulthood’ is unrealsitic and is creating a moral panic.
The first and somewhat strongest argument for this is that the represenattion in ‘ Kidulthood’ is that of only a small minority of British youths rather than a representative sample of all youths in Britain. The majority of British youths are well educated and the rise in numbers of people furthering eductaion until university proves this.
It can also be argued that the film is too intimate and therefore a sense of authenticity is reduced. “Shot in guerrilla style, with cast and crew weaving through actual Oxford Street crowds, the film's immediacy is striking.” As can be argued with ‘Bullet boy’ the use of patois is over emphasised, causing the language used to be humorous as it is so exagerrated rather than realistic. It is argued that the film glamourises ‘ happy slapping,’ however script writer and actor in the film Noel Clarke argues “Bullying / happy-slapping is happening already, the film is highlighting that, not promoting it.” (14)
Theorists such as Stan Cohen and Jock Young would argue that raising and exaggerating the issues raised in the film is a way of creating a moral panic in society, “leading to public overreaction or panic at a supposed threat to society, ” (15) in this case, teenagers. Furthermore, the film simply magnifies issues which are relevant in society, causing a moral panic and intending for the audience to react to situations raised in the film.
Using Laura Mulvey’s theory of the ‘male gaze,’ (16) it can be argued that the females in the film are on screen in order to fulfill the male gaze. All of the female actors are attractive and have the sole responsibility of wanting to please the male characters in the film. She used some of Freud's concepts to argue that the cinematic apparatus of classical hollywood cinema inevitably put the spectator in a masculine subject position, with the figure of the woman on screen as the object of desire. (17) Feminists would also argue that the women are objectified as sex objects in the film and are doing no justice to themselves, the sole purpose of them being in the film is to satisfy the male characters, however it can also be argued that in a postmodern society, (18) the female characters have the choice to be sexually active, therefore they have made the choice to be portrayed in this way.
Those coming form a Marxist perspective would argue that the the working class youths represented in the film are reacting to being oppressed by the bourgeisie. Their lack of power in society has led to ‘status frustration’ (19) and is merely the reaction of being oppressed in society. Also, the fact that the film begins with a white middle class schoolgirl being bullied by working class pupils reinforces the reaction from the working class to being opressed in society. Throughout the whole of the film, the pupils are going against the values of the bourgeois by having underage sex, taking drugs and committing criminal offences.Also, when three of the friends, Trife, Jay and Mooney go into a ‘Burberry’ shop, there are falsely accused of stealing by a white, middel- class security guard. Therefore are the issues raised in the film the reaction to middle class idelogies?
‘Kidulthood’ follows the typical Todorovian narrative however it can be criticised for containing no answers and only magnifying situations in society, if the film was simply reflecting society then surely it should contain some answers.The resolution is tragic as the protagonist dies, this is similar to the ending of ‘Bullet Boy’. We also have the presence of Proppian characters, ‘Sam’ being the villain and ‘Trife’ being the hero, this reduces the reality of the film as it makes it become ‘typical’. Also, Strauss’s theory of binary oppositions (20) is created between the two characters, this helps the narrative to progress and the storyline to be resolved such as in the ending. He fact that the film takes place over twenty four hours can quetsion the validity of the film, is it possible to refect reality in such a short time?
Also, as is the case with every film, the use of editing and special effects creates an unrealistic effect. For example, the use of a split screen in many occasions allows the audience to see all what is happening at the same time, this allows the overall tone of the scene to be reflected and emphasised, diverting from a sense of reality.
It makes it clearer to see whether a film is realistic or not by identifying its target audience. ‘Kidulthood’ has a primary audience of teengers however, its secondary audience may be parents. The ways in which the film allows the primary audience to identify includes clothing and language used by the actors and also the setting of the film.The £76,200 received to Revolver (21) for ‘Kidulthood’ was used to support advertising to the teenage target The explicit content of the film is shocking and would be unsuitable for adults as they are oblivious to some of the actions teenagers take part in, therefore, showing them what is really happening in society would shock them and lead to a moral panic. In the past, parents have been somewhat ignorant as to what their teenage children have been taking part in, ‘Kidulthood’ may be trying to raise awareness for parents so that they can stop society from distruption.
It is difficult to define which genre catergory ‘kidulthood’ falls into however the catergories it falls into are, urban drama, social realist, arthouse and Tragedy, this is similar to the genere catergories ‘Kidylthood’ falls into. Everyday life is also difficult to place in a catergory as there are a mixture of things which take place furthermore in this way, ‘Kidulthood’ is an accurate reflection of society as it cannot be placed in a single genre catergory as is the case in real life.
Total Film writers argue that the representation of British youths in ‘Kiduthood’ is totally unrealsitic and very much exaggerated- “ In Kidulthood's Britain, our teenagers are reckless hedonists, living for their moment under a whirl of as much sex, coke, blowjobs, weed and booze as they can cram into their "Oh my days!" lives. They're having a laugh.” “The 16-year-olds of Kidulthood are their own, irreverent culture.” “Kidulthood works just fine as a snapshot of Brit teen life. After seeing it, you'll never look at the kids on your bus in the same way again...” (22)
After reviewing all of my research and information, I have argued both for and against my question of ‘How realistic the representation of British youths in ‘ Kidulthood’ is.’ Arguments suggesting that ‘Kidlthood’ presents the audience with an accurate and realsitic view of British society and the idea that the film is in fact authentic include the following. The setting is a real place in the city of London where issues such as underage binge drinking, drug abuse and teenage pregnancies are apparent, the director grew up in West London where the action takes place therefore he is presenting to the audience from the perspective of an ‘insider’ rather than an ‘ outsider.’ The actors employed in the film are unprofessional and are regular teenagers living in the city of London and so they are able to reflect reality as they are reality. The government is creating ways is which to prevent issues from progressing for example the ‘hug a hoodie’ campaign (23), therefore the issues raised in the film are taking place in real life. However, it can be argued that the issues are over exaggerated and magnified and in reality it is only a minority of teenagers who are like those in the film. Furthermore, the film is there to create a moral panic in society. It is obvious that the issued raised in the film are taking place in reality however,evidence suggests that this is only true in aspect to only a minority of teenagers, it is not representative of all teenagers in British society and instead only a minority of British teenagers.
2 Stephen Moore, Dave Aiken, Steve Chapman-Sociology A2 for AQA
5 Kidulthood (2002) dir. Saul Dibb
7 Source: Melanie Johnson, House of Commons, 8 March 2004.
15 Stephen Moore, Dave Aiken, Steve Chapman-Sociology A2 for AQA
16 Mulvey. Laura (1975) Visual Pleasure And Narrative Cinema Screen.
17 Mulvey. Laura (1975) Visual Pleasure And Narrative Cinema Screen.
18 Stephen Moore, Dave Aiken, Steve Chapman-Sociology A2 for AQA
19 Stephen Moore, Dave Aiken, Steve Chapman-Sociology A2 for AQA
20 Levi Strauss