At the press screening of Beyond The Lights I got goosebumps. It wasn't just the anticipation of watching the latest film from Gina Prince-Bythewood, nor was it knowing I was about to be one of the few in the UK to see it on the big screen due to its dubious DVD release. In the opening minutes, the sight of Noni, a little mixed-race girl (India Jean-Jacques) being chaperoned around London by her white mum (Minnie Driver), gave me something I rarely feel when watching films - recognition.
I was Noni once and as her mother dragged her around Brixton looking for a hairdresser equipped to deal with her child's afro, I remember being palmed off to any black woman willing to tame my crop of curls. Mostly, I looked like a post-bloom dandelion and those patronising concerns from girls with glossy plaits still haunts.
I felt isolated between the perfectly groomed tresses of black girls, and white girls with velvet scrunchies, and in a world of Timotei TV ads and Dark 'N' Lovely kits furnishing Dalston Market, I knew hair was integral to being a proper woman.
This will be familiar for most 80s mixed-race kids, it's a shame we didn't know there were more of us until later. I almost feel cheated out of the necessary bosom of association that may have got me through the minor bouts of bullying. I wonder how different things would've been had I had seen more faces (and hair dos) like mine on screens.
As I grew older and London's melting pot bubbled, the young mixed-race population swelled. Mixed-race friends would joke that you never saw 'half-caste' people over 30, we assumed we were all carted off to Narnia on our 30th birthday. Soon we saw how 'fashionable' we were thanks to the media's salivations of stars like Mariah Carey and Jennifer Lopez as when Jenny From The Block was marketed as a sex symbol, us tea-coloured folk saw our stocks soar. Lopez may be Latino but for us Brits this honeyed vision of someone our colour (not race) would do. I remember being catcalled by the name of 'J-Lo', and when Spice Girls came along it was 'Scary' which is as ridiculous as shouting 'Oi Pammy!' to any white girl with a cleavage.
Soon, clocking people whose specific racial background was ambiguous, yet confessed an elixir of heritages, would be both empowering and defensive. It was comforting to see more of 'us' but I couldn't help feeling a dilution of exclusivity. Silly? Yes, but when you're eventually complimented, not ridiculed, for your looks you can't help feel precious about how quickly the stage you're on melts.
Now, us mixed race people are everywhere. When I see mixed-race couples pushing their giggly mixed-race kids I often get a knowing flick of the eye as if they're looking at their kid all grown up (a genuine confession I've had from parents). Similarly I have a fascination with watching black and white couples court. It's like making a quantum leap to the beginnings of my parents union.
In London, we're everywhere, and not just as fashion statements from people that wanted 'braaan babies' - a crass accusation in the 90s which was more to do with the intolerant attitudes of interracial dating than the discrimination of young white mums with black 'baby fathers'. This relentless wave of a multi-racial generation is a genuine equation of the evolution of unrequited love. I relish these visions as they're rare in comparison to the other worlds of which I frequent - the movies.
For me, a film journalist and film programmer, the movies is where it matters. I'm over being precious and no longer want that juvenile desire of exclusivity - I want more mixed race, fluffy haired people on the posters outside Odeon and inside Picturehouse. In Beyond The Lights, grown up Noni (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) steers a familiar rite of passage that many mixed-race girls have; she wears her hair natural. She blossoms with each stitch of the weave she unpicks and as someone who spent a decade straightening their hair, with the scars to prove it, I bristled with empathy.
It saddens me that this stark story of the coming of age of a mixed-race girl, that has been applauded by US critics, was quietly slipped on to the UK DVD shelf. I feel my story has been demoted and not deemed relevant enough for people to buy in to or enjoy. But I want black and white people to see brown faces on screen, I want my journeys understood and enjoyed - it's patronising to everyone to think they won't.
Beyond The Lights may be on DVD but the big screen matters. I'm a cinema sucker; I want to be enveloped in the world the director created, hear the dialogue at the exact pitch the sound team meticulously mastered and fight the urge to dance when the bass booms through the dark. I want that big screen to be in every horizon of my view and if it wasn't for health and safety, I'd bust the bulbs in exit signs - an infuriating reminder that this room can be escaped. Plus, in a world where we check our phones as many times as we blink, I relish that 90-minute oasis where social media is redundant.
After a bumpy road I've managed to bring Beyond The Lights to the big screen on the cart of my film festival 'The Bechdel Test Fest'. With some cherished help, I've picked it up, dusted it off and am about to hold it up for my little world to see it in its big cinematic glory. Gugu Mbatha-Raw, as a mixed-race, aspiring young woman, is a reflection of Britain we should celebrate, not ignore and the marketeers of Beyond The Lights missed a trick by neglecting to pick up the many USPs relevant to the UK. Many have ask why this film is so important to me; it's because I want my stories told because they are important and after selling out seats almost three times over I think I've found some people who agree.
Bechdel Test Fest will host Beyond The Lights London Premiere with post-screening Q&A with director + special guest at The Ritzy Brixton - 31st July 2015 and now (due to popularity) Sun 2nd Aug at the new Picturehouse Central.Suggest a correction