Posted on October 24, 2011

Hackney Banned Filming of British Version of the Wire . . . Because It Stigmatised Black Gangs

Daily Mail (London), October 23, 2011

A council banned filming of a television drama about drug crime and gangs on an east London housing estate–because it stigmatised black people.

Hackney town hall chiefs refused permission for Top Boy–billed as the British version of the U.S hit show The Wire–to be filmed of any of its estates.

The cast of the four-part Channel 4 series is almost entirely black with many roles played by first-time teenage actors.

Hackney mayor Jules Pipe vetoed filming after the council considered if the series would have a ‘detrimental’ effect on the area’s reputation.

He said: ‘Estates aren’t film sets–they are people’s homes.

‘In this case, it was not fair on residents . . . having their neighbourhood stigmatised on national television as riddled with drugs and gangs.’

Top Boy, written by Northern Irish novelist and screenwriter Ronan Bennett, will be shown over four nights later this month.

It tells the story of 13-year-old Ra’Nell, played by Malcolm Kamulete, who has to look after himself when his single mother is sent to a mental hospital.

Ra’Nell tends a hydroponic marijuana farm in a council flat for his white neighbour before local criminals Dushane (Ashley Walters) and his friend Sully (Kane Robinson) start muscling into the area.

Dushane wants to be ‘top boy’–to control the estate’s lucrative drugs market–at whatever price, including killing rivals.

Toyin Agbetu, whose organisation Ligali campaigns against negative stereotypes of black people, told the Independent On Sunday: ‘You don’t have to always portray the African community as drug-dealing, gun-toting criminals.

‘This isn’t the time to be going backwards and focusing on these stereotypes. We don’t need to perpetuate more reasons for civil unrest; there are many great stories that don’t need to focus on the boy in the hood.’

Bennett has lived in Hackney for 25 years and was inspired to write the series when he saw a child dealing drugs near his home.

He did exhaustive research for two years interviewing many young people and adopting their language like ‘food’ for drugs, ‘feds’ (police) and ‘foot soldiers’ (drugs dealers on the street) for his series.

Director, Yann Demange, defended the drama. ‘Whether one likes it or not, we’re shining a light on a particular part of London and it is truthful,’ he said.