If you’re a black artist from Brixton, can you still be complicit in the area’s gentrification?
An interview with Shola Amoo
It’s no secret that London has changed drastically in the last decade. For many, the areas we grew up in and have loved fiercely, despite rumours that across rivers and over bridges lay greener grass, are fast becoming unrecognisable. Knowing that the only way you will own a home in your area is if it comes via your parents’ will is the injury, whilst overpriced soya flat whites and kale crisps on every corner provide daily insult. We sigh, we whine, we sign petitions and some of us begin research into flatshares in Bristol.
In South London, as anywhere, the burgeoning art scene, which is currently home to local talent, is also a ticking time bomb. That free, rebellious, creative vibe marks the beginning of serious change. Hipsters and property developers alike have clocked what’s going on and they are in descent. Suddenly the area is cool, but sadly that is the beginning of the end of the ends as we knew them.
For Elephant and Castle native Shola Amoo, this inescapable link between art and gentrification is the heart of the film that’s earned him selection at the 2016 LA Film Festival. His multimedia film A Moving Image: A Film About Gentrification explores how artist Nina navigates the newly forming spaces transforming her community, whilst she interrogates her own complicity in the process.
Set in South London, the film uses a mixture of documentary, fiction, performance art, animation and photography to capture the “cool but sad” reality of being a local artist caught in the conflict of searching for the solution when you are the problem. Tanya Fear stars as Brixton-bred Nina, who wants to explore the effects of gentrification on her neighbourhood, but the multimedia nature of the project means she shares the limelight with unconventional co-stars. A Moving Image also features animation by Jessica Ashman as well as real footage from the Reclaim Brixton protests this year. Between shots of Brixton’s largest anti-gentrification protest in recent history and filming in locations such as the Bussey Building in Peckham, Amoo works hard to reflect the real contentions of the area as they’re unfolding. His success in this comes partly from the way in which media is layered, juxtaposing the rough with the smooth, evoking the process that he is seeking to depict. He tells me,
“A standard narrative just seemed wack or limited at least. I can’t really imagine the film without any of the elements that we’ve incorporated”.
Comfortable with expressing the links between his experience and his work, Amoo explains further:
“It’s a film about an artist trying to see what the purpose of art is in a community, made by a filmmaker who’s experiencing the same thing”.
The complexity of characters who, even with the best intentions, are inescapably involved in the changing face of Brixton is what makes it such compelling viewing. Amoo notes that this sadly uncommon nuanced representation of black characters is what makes his film distinct. “There’s this association of blackness and poverty”, an all too familiar and tempting narrative, so “no one would even think to approach the film in this way”. Rarely are Black characters accurately representative of the diverse facets and elements that make up Black British culture, and seeing women of colour as having such agency in their situations is equally rare.
As a filmmaker who happens to be black, Amoo is aware that he is more than likely going to be labelled a “black filmmaker” making “black films” before being acknowledged as a great filmmaker making great films. Regardless, he remains focused on the simple goal of producing excellent work that transcends artistic boundaries. While he isn’t conceited about his work, he concedes after some encouragement:
“I don’t think we’ve had a film like A Moving Image before”.
Looking through Amoo’s catalogue, which features a documentary on knife crime as well as a short fiction film with Afrofuturistic overtones set in Lincolnshire, it is impossible to predict what will come next. Questioned about innovation, he responds with his own question:
“If you’re not doing something different, what’s the point really?”
This approach is evident in A Moving Image and the filmmaker’s cutting-edge style, and is undoubtedly in part responsible for his success; from crowdfunding almost £5000 for film production, to having it selected as a nominee for the World Fiction award at the 2016 LA Film Festival. Although he assures me that we can expect the same recurring themes of control, race, politics and spirituality in all of his work it is anyone’s guess how he next intends to package it.
When he shares his philosophy on navigating the industry, I can’t help wonder if this is in part responsible for his ability to strive forward uninhibited.
“There was always this superstition that black films didn’t make money. So, the market was already defining what ‘black film’ was before [black filmmakers] had. If we can let the market define it then maybe there’s strength in defining it for yourself first.”
While accepted definitions of success and measures of artistic excellence may feel intimidating to young creatives of colour, perhaps this is the opportunity that Amoo has seized, to forge his own definition of Black British film.
A Moving Image screens at the LA Film Festival on 5 June at 2pm.
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Take Back The City community activist and co-founder of Our Fathers and Us, a research project on Black British fatherhood, Zahra’s truest loves include hip hop, Lewisham and theories of revolution. Also a trilingual travel addict, you can usually catch her skipping borders across continents whilst trying to understand the true meaning of diaspora. Twitter: @ZahraDalilah1
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