very once in a while, the issue of leadership in the gay community comes up: "Where's OUR Martin Luther King?"
Figureheads, it seems, only count when they're dead. Are our prophets already walking amongst us? Peter Tatchell must surely have earned his wings by now. Dan Choi's stood up and been counted. They're both alive, explaining perhaps why they don't appear, Che Guevara-like, on gay equality posters and flags.
If anyone deserves the crown of "our" Martin Luther King, it's Rikki Beadle-Blair: playright, director, musician - and more. I've been a fan of his work since 2001's iconic Metrosexuality, and as a Londoner I've also had the good fortune to hear him speak: The after-show Q&As he holds are often as electrifying as the show itself;' Rikki is a lightning rod for unity.
Now, personally, I spend too much time in defensive mode, feeling angry about the bad guys - the James Earl Hardys and Fred Phelps of this world - who seek to incite hate and maintain the status quo. I could tear our enemies to pieces, expecting it would make me feel better but, as a wise man once said, an eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind. That is the message that permeates Bashment - and Beadle-Blair's work in general. His solution is healing, redemption, and unity.
In Bashment, J.J. (Joel Dommett) is a white, gay MC trying to make it big in the world of ragga and grime. What happens when he brings his boyfriend Orlando to a bashment competition - and the shocking clash with the Ilford Illmanics that ensues - changes the lives of everyone involved.
You can't argue with Bashment - whether you're a black separatist or a white racist (or even a black racist or a white seperatist) - because Bashment is realness, The Truth, in its purest form. Brutal, raw, ugly (who amongst us, black or white, can stand to hear the dreaded "N" word uttered, time and again, both as a slur and an affirmation?) Bashment is an emotional sucker punch, delivering blow after blow, leaving us no time to pull back to a place of safety. But don't hide: this is how it is, like it or not.
Ironically, a film like Bashment could never be made in America. Over there, its message might well be reduced to a hackneyed, worthy, black vs. white Spike Lee-style slog, as if the issue of race and sexuality and class really were, literally, black and white.
But, everyone has an agenda. Everyone wants to be on somebody's team. I'm black, I'm white. I'm a Muslim. I'm middle-class, I'm a socialist. Bashment - and Rikki Beadle-Blair - makes me want to be on the only side worth fighting for: oneness, and unity.
In the post-film discussion, Rikki said that we're all the same, every one of us. I wish it were true, and I wish I could let go of everything else and be part of that. Perhaps one day, I - and you - could be.
It's something to aspire to (and how often does a film make you while like that?).
As for the film, it's not a boring preachy lecture about how we should all just get along. It shows us why we don't, and how we can fix it. If you bred Kidulthood with Crash, you'd start to get something like Bashment, although Bashment amounts to much more than both. It's a beautiful mission statement advocating oneness, and an ugly indictment of what we've got. It's packed with laughter and tears, plenty of eye candy (of all flavours) and pure talent. It's the best thing you'll see this year and, just maybe, this decade.
Bashment was written and directed by Rikki Beadle-Blair.
The preview was screened at
Theatre Royal Stratford East, London,
on 15 October 2010.
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