Blue Story director Rapman questions 'hidden reasons' for film ban

Rapman at the Blue Story premiere at Curzon Cinema Mayfair on 14 NovemberImage copyright
Getty Images

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Rapman has said his film is about “love not violence”

The director of a British film that was banned by Vue cinemas after a mass brawl has insisted the violence had nothing to do with his movie.

Vue stopped showing Blue Story after a fight involving machetes injured seven police officers at a Birmingham cinema.

Vue has said more than 20 other incidents have been linked to the film.

But director Rapman told BBC News there “was no link to Blue Story”, and questioned whether there were “hidden reasons” behind the ban.

He told BBC arts editor Will Gompertz: “They were just in a cinema apparently for Frozen but then they pinned it on Blue Story.”

Five teenagers were arrested after the fight in Birmingham’s Star City complex on Saturday.

Vue said there had been a total of 25 “significant incidents” at its sites around the country, all involving people either watching, buying tickets for, going in to watch or leaving screenings of Blue Story. However, the chain has not given further details of the other incidents.

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Paramount Pictures

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Rapman (centre) on the set of Blue Story

Rapman, real name Andrew Onwubolu, said there was “no connection” between the Birmingham brawl and his movie. “And I was thinking, oh my gosh, what’s the reason [for the ban]?

“And then you start thinking, is there hidden reasons there? What’s the owner like? Has he got an issue with young urban youth? Is he prejudiced? Does he believe that this film brings a certain type? Is there a colour thing?

“You start thinking of all these things, and it was an upsetting time.”

A spokesperson for Vue said the decision to pull Blue Story from its 91 cinemas nationwide was “categorically not” related to race.

Blue Story follows the life of Timmy who lives in Lewisham but goes to school in Peckham – two areas that have a notorious rivalry.

The rapper-turned-film-maker, who rose to prominence in 2017 with his hit YouTube series Shiro’s Story, said he knew his film would appeal to young people, but he had no reason to suspect it might attract gang violence.

Extra security

“You always have to be prepared for kids in the sense of you need extra security there,” he said. “You need people to watch over them because they’re not adults.

“But did I feel that there was going to be people pulling out machetes for the film? Of course not. And as far as I was concerned, no-one did pull out machetes because of Blue Story anyway.

“The two gangs that the film’s based on, which are real gangs, have been in a cinema screen watching it together, laughing together, joking together, and leaving a cinema connected, happy seeing the area they grew up in.”

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Paramount Pictures

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The film is based on gangs in south London

Blue Story is released by the Paramount film studio, which had offered to provide extra security at cinemas, Rapman said. The movie is also backed by BBC Films.

“Paramount have definitely offered every single site extra secure if they need it. How hard would that be to just get more [security] people there?”

Speaking about Vue, he added: “They’re not even trying to hide the fact that it’s just Blue Story. They didn’t even try to pull Frozen and Blue Story and 21 Bridges and all the other films in the cinema. They just pulled ours.”

Showcase originally followed Vue’s lead in pulling the film, but later reinstated it. Odeon and Cineworld have continued showing the movie.

Vue’s move has led to a vocal backlash, with some accusing the chain of being “institutionally racist”. Vue has said its decision was made “on grounds of safety alone” and not because of “biased assumptions or concern about the content of the film itself”.

‘They bullied me’

But Rapman said: “They’ve alienated themselves from a big audience there and without any explanation really. The explanation came with no evidence, no facts.

“I feel like they bullied me because I’m a small film. They wouldn’t have pulled Frozen, they wouldn’t have pulled Last Christmas. They pulled a little independent movie that needs it more than them other movies.”

He feels “cheated” as a result, he added. “I feel it’s always the upward hurdles coming from our background. I always knew it was never going to be smooth. But the last thing I thought was a cinema would ban us from every single site. I just don’t think they respect me. They don’t respect my movie.”

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Getty Images

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Rapman at the Blue Story premiere earlier this month

Rapman has said his film is about “love not violence”. One of its stars, actor Vic Santoro, told BBC Radio 4’s Beyond Today podcast the underlying message of the film was that gang wars were “pointless”.

He said: “The concept of having to risk your freedom and your life to show someone you love them – it doesn’t make sense. So it’s those narratives we’re trying to get rid of. Do something with your life. You can make something of your life.”

Rapman told BBC News: “If you watch the film, you will understand. The last line of the whole trailer is, ‘I’m not trying to justify, but I’m going to show you what these young boys are fighting for’.

“I’m not justifying their actions, but go and see why they are fighting, see why they’re stabbing and see what they’re doing all these things, just so you can see their motivation and maybe we can help prevent that, so they don’t have to pick up a weapon again.”

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