In a few days time, on the 4th of November, a film will go on general release that is set in a scary and terrible world. It’s a world where young girls are traded to settle arguments without bloodshed, resources are scarce, your identity is tied to arbitrary numbers, and wearing the wrong colours or wandering into another person’s territory could get you beaten, killed, or worse. This is a world were seven year olds have access to guns, and being shot is a badge of honor.

 

Although I could be talking about any dystopian sci-fi Video Nasty from the early eighties you may have already guessed I’m actually referring to areas of Birmingham. Not LA, Rio, or Africa, but the city you live, right now. OK Not the areas you may live in obviously. But short bus journeys away. Its where children have to deal with these rules and joining gangs not only seem the only option but a damn site preferable than buckling down, scraping a few GCSE’s and one day, maybe, becoming lower middle management in an office job they hate.

Ever met a kid in a gang? I have, they’re not showy or quick to anger like most of the young people from the same areas. They are closed, almost to the point of autism. School doesn’t bother them, not in a rebellious way. They just don’t even entertain the notion that teachers or school authorities have any influence in there world. There eyes are dead and distant and they look right through you, not dismissively but rather that they regard you as a ghost, a person that has no more impact on there life than the dream they had last night. Gang members mostly don’t get into trouble at school because they’re above the childish rebellion and dealing with far more serious and potentially life and death situations, or they simply don’t want to pop up on any more radars than is absolutely necessary, be it school, social services or the police.

 

It’s likely that you think you have met gang members. Birmingham police estimate that there are less than one hundred and fifty boni-fidi gang members in Birmingham. The kids you have met, been mugged by, or been intimidated by on the back of the bus are not gang members. They aspire to be gang members. They are so seduced by gang culture that they commit, what the police force refer to as ‘low level crime’ and generally alienate themselves from society until they are ripe for recruiting.

 

And why wouldn’t they? The gangs themselves have grew in the same cultural Petri dish as you or me, they are as aware of the benefits of self aggrandizing, branding and advertising as we are, in fact maybe more so. Because gangs have something to sell, not a product, but a lifestyle and they have a medium to do it. Type almost any north Birmingham post-code into YouTube and you will see short films made by and for the gangs of that area. Most have MySpace pages featuring talented young men and women who most gangs consider ‘trophy members’. These are gang members that have a higher profile than your average street grunt; they are the most sought after members of gangs and treated as commodities. If these are good looking girls they can, and often are, swapped and traded like Panini stickers, never given a voice or opinion. Boys could be talented rappers or even budding sportsmen. These Prestige members often intimidated into joining the gangs are belong to a situation and culture that fool them into thinking that the gang is the only option or family they have. Tragically it’s the young people that have the brightest prospects of leaving that are the ones actively sought after and ‘recruited’.

The film is called ‘1day’ and is set and filmed around Handsworth, all its cast, apart from a few key actors are from the area, and inevitably members of the gangs they portray. Although I have yet to see the film I suspect a lot of the elements that I have mentioned here will be discussed in the narrative and the more depressing points hid behind the same sort aggrandizing and protagonist empathy that the real message will be lost. No one will realise that these problems are real and happening to people’s sons and daughters every day.

 

Another, more practical worry is that it seems that only members of one gang were chosen to appear in the film. Which to all intents and purposes becomes an elaborate version of the YouTube adverts and contains many of the ‘trophy’ members of that gang. Or, if you like, the gang members that do appear in the film will quickly become so called ‘trophy members’. This, many suspect, will draw a lot of negative reaction from the rival gangs, and the negative reaction will not just translate into poor box office figures and stern letters to The Guardian. There will be violence, and I suspect a lot of it. Now a lot of this probably will not be reported in the main press, partly because the police ask local press to not run gang related story’s in fear of giving them the sort of reviews they would be proud of or inspire revenge attacks. And partly, for the larger press, there is nothing novel or newsworthy about gang violence.

 

The film angle will be attractive to your average journo so, who knows. Watch this space I guess. In the mean time, the gangs will continue to control the lives of young people, some young people will aspire to have their lives controlled by gangs, and anyone who knows what goes on will continue to stand at the sidelines and try and solve an unsolvable situation with the little resources they have

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