Snagfilms has made available on their site a provocative exploration of racial politics within London’s African Caribbean community. The film, the BBC drama Shoot the Messenger, stars David Oyelewo.
The 2006 film, initially entitled, F**k Black People!, provoked strong criticism from local groups in the U.K. It is written by Sharon Foster, best known as the writer of Babyfather, who won the Dennis Potter Screenwriting Award for her screenplay.
Shoot the Messenger features Oyelowo as Joe Pascale, a well-meaning middle class schoolteacher whose efforts to ‘make a difference’ in the education of failing black pupils in an inner-city school result in unemployment, schizophrenia and homelessness.
Oyelewo gives a wonderful performance as the film charts Joe’s multiple misfortunes. A tough disciplinarian, Joe loses his job after being wrongly accused of physical abuse by a black pupil, Germal. He is subsequently vilified as a racist by prominent members of the black community. During a live radio debate, Joe is attacked by a black local counselor (Brian Bovell), who exploits the teacher’s predicament for political capital, a scene which might be argued to cast black community leaders as ideologues who maliciously amplify racial tensions for their own aggrandizement. Joe, meanwhile, is constructed as a middle class martyr to political correctness.
After his dismissal, Joe is discovered by social services cowering on top of a wardrobe in his flat. He is promptly taken to the hospital and diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia. Seemingly with the aid of psychiatric medication, he recovers swiftly and leaves the hospital, but begins to blame the black community for his troubles. ‘Everything bad that has happened to me,’ he reflects, ‘has involved a black person.’ He rails against black people’s ‘invented’ names and their aspirationally ‘white’ fashions. He is even punched at a party for suggesting that black people are obsessed with slavery. For Joe, black problems are caused by black people and his critiques of the black community are dramatized through a number of stereotypical incidental characters, including a violent gun criminal and a self-hating fundamentalist Christian matriarch who rescues Joe from the street after his discharge from the hospital.
In addition to Oyelewo, the film co-stars an impressive array of talent including Anjela Lauren Smith, Ariyon Bakare, Brian Bovell, Charles Mnene, Daniel Kaluuya, David Gyasi, David Oyelowo, Jotham Annan, Nikki Amuka-Bird, Richard Blackwood and Sharon Duncan-Brewster.
Shoot the Messenger is currently available on Snagfilms but you can watch it below: