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Gone Too Far!

Gone Too Far!

“As a child growing up in the tight-knit Jamaican community, I was taught as an article of faith that people from Jamaica were better than any other country in the Caribbean (whom my parents referred to as “small islanders”) and that Caribbean people were infinitely superior to Africans, who lived in mud huts and did not know how to comb their hair.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the world, African children were being taught how superior they were to Caribbean people, who had been stupid enough to get sold into slavery and were all thieves anyway.”
Diane Abbot, MP

Britain’s first black female Labour MP Abbot caused a minor furore with these statements, which she made in 2006 in an article in a Jamaican newspaper. Black on black racism is a truth seldom acknowledged in the UK, where the media prefers to refer to the ‘Black Community’ as one homogenous sea of dark faces. But spend more than an hour in South London and a very different reality emerges. This is the world of Gone Too Far, an engaging film set in the mean streets of Peckham; it features Malachi Kirby as Yemi, a teenager of Nigerian origin who has been raised by his mother while his older brother Ikudayisi (O. C. Ukeje) was at boarding school in Nigeria. Yemi has missed his brother fiercely, and is looking forward to seeing him again, but is shamed and horrified by his ‘bush’ appearance, sandals and socks, love beads and all.

Yemi has mixed feelings about his African heritage; he is in love with Armani (Shanika Warren-Markland), the hottest girl on the block and walking proof that beauty is only skin deep. Armani is as shallow as a puddle and despises ‘Afs’ despite her mixed heritage and African stepfather; she is also deeply condescending to her so-called best friend, Paris (Adelayo Adedayo) who she looks down upon as a dark-skinned ‘small islander’. Convinced that everyone (including Paris) is in love with her, Armani’s conceit knows no bounds; she uses everyone around her including Yemi, who is her patsy in her on-going on again, off again relationship with local bad boy Razer. Like Armani, Razer has no time for Africans, seeing Peckham as Jamaican territory.

What’s interesting about Gone Too Far! is that it could easily have been pitched as a gritty urban story of gangs and turf wars; a cliché of tower blocks, gun crime and drug addiction. There has been a wave of films of this ilk exploring the black urban experience as almost universally gloomy, troubled and depressing (Kidulthood, Ill Manors, Girlhood etc); by contrast Gone Too Far!, while not glossing over the prejudice and potential for violence, also shows the humour and light, and the genuine community that exists in working class London.

Peckham is, in contrast to nearby West Indian Brixton, predominantly West African; known as ‘Little Lagos’ the shops of Rye Lane sell African land snails, Milo, Omo washing powder and mutton-dressed-as-‘goat’ meat, Nollywood movies and Brazilian and Peruvian hair extensions. Gone Too Far! accurately depicts the melting pot that is modern Peckham; the old white ladies and the Asian shop owners, the community DJ who knows Kanye West and the tough Nigerian mothers raising their kids alone. The traditional rivalries between the communities are depicted with bantering good humour, as depicted in Yemi’s cheerful exchanges with the grocer and his security obsessed daughter.

Peckham is, of course, an inner city area with more than its fair share of problems. Two doors down from the middle-class enclave the South London Gallery is Oliver Goldsmith Primary School; its most famous pupil Nigerian born Damilola Taylor, murdered in a stairwell by teenagers from the North Peckham Estate in 2000. He was ten years old. His death shocked the nation, turning Peckham into a byword for shattered communities, leading to considerable government investment in the area, including the building of the award-winning Library which can be seen in the film.

Despite the investment, and the demolition of some of the grimmer tower blocks, there are still gang related issues, and a new problem – one affecting many inner city boroughs in the UK and USA – gentrification. Affordable Victorian family homes have been snapped up by affluent middle class professionals, driving up house prices and further alienating the local working class population.

Nonetheless, the gang story, with its mixed messages simultaneously glorying in and condemning violence, gun culture and misogyny, has been done to death, and a great deal of the pleasure of Gone Too Far! is in seeing just how inept these so called hard men are. Razer and his somewhat reluctant henchman Blazer can’t even drive, are terrified by a dog, and are easily knocked out by Ikudayisi’s surprising martial arts skills.

In the final act, Razer calls for a war on Afs, his rallying cry ‘back to the banana boats!’, only to discover to his horror that his idol, rapper Hi Res, is Nigerian. Armani comments with typical tact ‘you look too good to be African’ while Razer decides that it is time to go home to Jamaica – though he doesn’t even have a passport. This is the classic second generation dilemma; where do these kids belong? Are they Jamaican or English?

Gone Too Far! successfully marries broad comedy with serious issues; it is not a perfect film by any means but with its fresh take on the immigrant experience (by first-time director Destiny Ekaraghra and from a script by Olivier award-winning Bola Agbaje), it certainly feels like an authentic take on a potentially tired genre, and its final message, one of tolerance and inclusion, is especially relevant in these post-Brexit times. Divide and conquer has always been the mantra of the ruling classes, whether along racial or economic lines, and Gone Too Far! skewers this argument beautifully in its denouement, reminding us that we are more alike than we are different, whatever our skin tone or accent.

As Diane Abbott commented:

“I think it’s very important that everyone is proud of their cultural identity. But if we allow white politicians to play divide and rule, amongst the black community, nobody wins.”

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August 23, 2016
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