‘Abi: Being Black & 6Teen’ is the second in the series of films directed by Lainey Richardson for the education charity, Football Beyond Borders (FBB) for its ‘Beyond Bars’ spoken word project.
At a time when support for the most vulnerable young people in the UK has been seriously lacking, the Beyond Bars campaign brings to life the immense potential young people possess, and how with the right support they can flourish even during such challenging times.
The project began with virtual writing workshops, led by professional writers, spoken word artists and creatives, who held sessions on Zoom for more than 60 young people. The participants, ranging in age from 13 to 16, were asked to write personal poems based on their lives in lockdown.
Yassin Slimani-Mendez (14) and Abi Simms (16) were chosen as winners, by a panel of judges that included Roma defender Chris Smalling.
Yassin & Abi won the chance to have their words turned into films, in which they both star. ‘Yassin: It Really Goes This Deep’ was the first to be released, a hybrid poetry film cum music video in which 13-year-old Yassin portrays life in lockdown.
Abi’s cinematic poetry film about her Black experience, was penned the day she found out about the death of George Floyd. An intimate portrait, vibrant, energetic and full of spirit, Being Black & 6Teen contrasts the hardship and beauty of Abi’s life told through a Brit-centric lens. Staged meditative stylised set-ups and archive stills, collectively build meaning and message leaving us on a powerful note of optimism which in light of the recent Lockdown news, casts a positive light on trying times, conveying a message of hope and better days to come.
Lainey Richardson, who directed both films, said: “Abi’s poem brought tears to my eyes the first time I read it. So unique to Abi’s own experience, yet so powerful in its ability to articulate sentiments that I think a lot of people can relate to, it felt like such an important and relevant perspective to bring to screen.
“I got to know Abi over Zoom and drew inspiration from her life to come up with the creative vision. To me, from the outside looking in, this is not a story about the struggle, but a story about triumph, of Abi’s strength, courage and journey to becoming, so I wanted to shift the focus to themes of Black pride, Black joy, Black beauty, and Black excellence through intimate imagery depicting Abi’s life, and the juxtaposition of stunning still images from photographers who spotlight Black cultures and identities, that interrupt the screen and help build this narrative.”
Commenting on her film’s message, Abi, said: “I want people to take from this film is the misconception of what it is to be black and what it is to be 16. I labelled a few stereotypes that we hear from a young age and just hoped people would understand what it really feels like.”
Jasper Kain, who co-founded FBB in 2014, has seen first hand how lacking the support for the UK’s most vulnerable young people has been: “In the midst of a global pandemic, 2020 was the year when a mirror reflected the state of play. New understandings emerged, none more so than some of the inequalities which continue to plague our society. Being a black teenager comes with lots of stereotypes and expectations that have to be navigated, and Abi’s poem expertly confronts this. It showcases her supreme talents and the changing face of modern Britain.” said, Jasper.
“It is part of a movement that is pioneering a new dawn in the creative industry. Talented young black creatives who are calling for a seat at the table to shape the society we want to live in.” he added.
Adam Burns, creative director at Dark Horses, said: “Our work with FBB during 2020 has aimed to put its young people at the heart, both in front of and behind the camera. The Beyond Bars project gave young people the chance to flex their creative passions and ultimately exposed them to brilliant creatives from Caviar. It’s these experiences that can really open their eyes to where their abilities can take them.”
The experience is already having a huge impact on both Abi and Yassin’s life, with Yassin’s head of year remarking on his change of attitude to life and school. Meanwhile, Abi has gone on to lead a Co-op winter campaign, performing a spoken word piece in an uplifting ad created by Lucky Generals.
Lainey, added: “Abi is remarkably talented both in her writing and performance - such a dream to direct her, I really think we may have discovered a star in the making! It was such a cathartic experience and labour of love for everyone involved, and I’m so proud to finally get to present the film to you all.”