Adam Deacon's urban comedy Anuvahood did monster business at the UK box-office a fortnight ago. Despite a relatively slim 149-cinema rollout, the film achieved healthy debut takings of £537,000, delivering the top 10's highest screen average (£3,603). To date the Anuvahood has earned over £1.2 million and is still pushing on strong.
So, it seems that UK urban cinema is now a bonafide success story. British urban cinema has come a long way since Isaac Julien's Young Soul Rebels. Isaac's 1991 film was made at a time when releasing a British film that starred a predominantly urban cast was unheard of. Most executives would have told you there isn't an audience out there to justify such a thing. The chances are that a snooty panel of elitist posh commissioning executives would've shit their pants at the thought of a black person coming into their office and pitching an urban story about inner-city characters doing inner-city things.
Over the proceeding 20 years British urban cinema languished. Unlike British Asian films such as East is East and Bend it Like Beckham, urban cinema lacked the alluring draw that cute ethnic comedies about characters from the Indian subcontinent have for UK audiences, making it a wiser proposition for film producers to invest in. The last few years has seen movies like The Guru, Bride and Prejudice, Slumdog Millionaire and West is West deliver brawny results.
On the other hand urban cinema was not worth the attention. Even major American movies made for urban audiences were released directly on to video, the assumption being the British audience for such films was negligible.
With this in mind it would seem that British urban cinema is fertile ground for creating complex stories about a plethora of cultures bound together in the backdrop of poverty. Some of these stories could be funny, thrilling, romantic, horrific or dramatic. It offers a vast canvas of opportunities to present levels of storytelling plurality conventional British cinema lacks.
Unfortunately, this hasn't been the case. There is nothing that is compelling about contemporary British urban cinema. Take for instance Anuvahood, which is basically a low rent retread of F. Gary Gray's 1995 U.S. comedy, Friday. It explores no new ground other than taking the model of something that already exists and transporting it to inner-London. Even the films of Noel Clarke are lackadaisical interpretations of American ghetto dramas of the early-1990s. Rather than creating a distinct urban cinema the way in which France did with La Haine or Brazil did with City of God, the UK has produced a series of paltry products that fail to leave any indelible impression. The British urban film scene is a joke that will impress only the most undemanding audiences, primarily poorly educated inner-city kids who are in fact being insulted by the current films targeting their cash.
The chances of anyone saying such positive things about British urban cinema in two decades time is pretty slim. The British urban scene is largely lacking in quality and integrity, meaning it will leave no lasting impression. That seems wrong when you consider that the kitchen-sink films of the 1960s were also about misconstrued characters coming from poor backgrounds, yet they were rich in humanity. Much like urban fare, the kitchen-sink tradition was very much of its time but remains important. Films like Saturday Night Sunday Morning, This Sporting Life and A Taste of Honey were amazingly well crafted stories that featured impeccably layered characters. I challenge anyone to say the same about British urban cinema.