For the past couple of decades, Rikki Beadle-Blair has been one of the leading artists looking at the British black and gay experience. He’s written and directed numerous stage plays, penned films and TV series such as Metrosexuality and Stonewall, and helmed movies like Fit and KickOff.
Now he’s back with Bashment, based on his 2003 play. The movie, which is out now on DVD in the UK, is about the aftermath of a horrific homophobic attack on a young man, looking at both the victims and the attackers. You can read our review here.
We caught up with Rikki to talk about the movie, as well as his personal take on the issues facing black and gay people today.
Where did the initial idea for Bashment come from?
I did a documentary for Radio 4 in which I tried to get to the bottom of homophobic music Britain and Jamaica. It was such a fascinating journey, I felt the urge to go deeper.
It’s eight years since the play was first staged. Had you always thought that eventually you’d like it to be a film, and was it difficult to adapt for the screen?
I basically want to make a film of every play I do. This is the third one (and not the last). It wasn’t difficult to adapt and it was lovely to have so many of the family from the play back together.
Has there ever been any backlash about the fact the movie tries to understand people who commit such a heinous attack on a young gay man, rather than taking the easy route and just saying they should be locked up and the key thrown away?
I think some people struggle with it. But for me understanding is the key to freedom and that is what all my work is about. In fact, my next film is called ‘Free’.
Was it difficult to find a cast you felt could take on such challenging roles? I believe many of them were in the stage version.
All of them except two were in the play, yes. I wrote it for the cast, as I usually do, and it’s a lot easier to write when you have the actor in mind. My actors are my muses. Even though they have transformed themselves for the movie, their souls and mine are entwined to make this little baby together.
Parts of the movie are pretty intense. Were the attack scenes difficult to film, particularly the initial one that sets the plot in motion, as it’s quite intense and sustained?
Yes, hard to film, especially for the actors, and very, very hard to write. But most of the movie is fun and it is ultimately a hugely uplifting project, so it was worth the journey.
You’ve become one of the leading artists looking at the British black and gay experience. Do you feel this is a severely underexplored area?
The black experience in general and the gay experience in general – along with the modern Asian experience, Chinese experience, traveller experience, Anglo-Irish experience….
The film suggests there’s a lot of tension between parts of the black community and parts of the gay community. It also suggests the issues involved are very complex. Do you think the issues are solvable?
Absolutely, all issues are solvable. This is an amazing time for the gay people. This is our century and we will see amazing things happen all over the world…. If we work at it.
Bashment also takes on gender roles. Do you think the world would be a better place if men didn’t get so hung up on particular ideas of masculinity?
I think we could all benefit from a broader, deeper view of gender roles. Masculinity is both important and sexy, and it has a great contribution to make, but so do other things. Diversity is power, both within the individual and in the world. I’m keen to celebrate that and make us aware of that power.
Do you think things are easier for young black, gay men now than when you were growing up, or does modern ‘urban’ culture puts a lot of extra pressure on them?
Well, every generation thinks that the young have it too easy. I work with young people a lot – particularly young actors of course – and more of them definitely have more confidence, but they also have a great deal of fear and conflict. There is more pressure to come out but not much of a support system. It’s tricky, but on balance it is definitely getting better, and as I say, about to get a lot better. The dam is breaking.
I got a sense from the film that there’s a problems with well-meaning white people who don’t really understand the issues they’re dealing with when it comes to race. Do you think that’s true?
I think whatever our background we all need to employ flexible thinking when dealing with what we want from the world and that we need to employ empathy before making demands. If we want to be heard we need to listen. If we want to be seen, we need to open our eyes and look.
I was also wondering about your personal take on homophobic music and lyrics. Do you think it does contribute to homophobia, or should we be able to separate the passion and beats from the words?
I think it does contribute, yes. I’ve been set about by people chanting homophobic lyrics. But it’s not the lyrics I want to engage with, it’s the minds that create them. The lyrics are what helps me identify those oppose me, so I’m oddly grateful for them. When someone is confronted by those words, they cannot dismiss us as paranoid and they cannot claim that all the battles are won. They are a reminder against complacency.
Do you watch many other gay-themed films? Do you think queer cinema is improving in its diversity, or do you think it’s becoming more homogenous?
I love watching gay themed movies. There’s always going to be lazy, copycat film-making in every genre and market, but there will always be geniuses. I look for those and have lots of fun looking. There’s a place in my heart for trash too.
What are you working on now?
God, where do I start…. We’re about to start shooting the sibling film to ‘FIT’ for Stonewall called ‘FREE’ and it’s aimed at 8-12 yr old schoolkids. It’s about tomboys, sissys and kids with gay parents and siblings. It’s filled with amazing child actors and will be sent to every primary school in the country and hopefully every secondary school too! I’ve written a movie about a gay teenager in Mississippi that has just finished editing, directed by Patrik Ian Polk (Noah’s Arc) and I’m back to the States in November to the states to do a play about MGM’S legendary black movie-star Lena Horne. And lots more to come!
Thank you, Rikki.