It was a windy Thursday afternoon; I was at The Crib centre in De Beauvoir from 10 am to set up the projector for the screening of Top Boy. We were given the privilege to watch the entire series and to help the Observer write a review based on the reaction and thought from young people who are from Hackney.
Before I actually put the show on, I spoke to the young people and told them that they had to give an honest opinion on what they think about the show and if they feel it represents what happens on the streets of Hackney.
At the start, there was a robbery scene, as a group of guys from another area came with guns to hold up and steal drugs from their rivals. As this was happening, there was a young school boy looking out his window watching the whole thing. For me, this has extra significance because working with young people on a regular basis you see how influential the negative things around them can affect them or shape the way they think. So watching that first scene from that perspective, understanding that they are people within our community that keep the negative cycle alive and what it shows is that the children are watching. If we are not careful then they too will be dragged into that negative cycle.
Top Boy is cast with recognisable faces from the UK music scene. Ashley Waters plays the main character who is known around his area and feared - he's more of a leader. His character needs to maintain his respect but at the same time, he has a conscience. Unlike his co-star Kano whose character is more of a liability and has less of a conscience, other rappers in the show include Scorcher, Sway and Snakeyman.
Top Boy covers many issues that inner city youth face on a daily basis. What we wanted to know is if this was portrayed accurately. The acting was not over the top, unlike some other UK urban films or drama which seems like it was forced. Jason, a young man on the panel reviewing it stated that, "This is quite good because there are talking like how we would; some other shows seem to force the actor to talk a certain way, which makes it lose it credibility". Some of the issues covered in the show include mental health, drugs, gangs, youth violence, and single parent.
Undoubtedly, these are some of the issues that we face in Hackney, but some of the young people in our panel felt like it was only perpetuating more stereotypes. Some said that those that live here know what is happening and know there is more to Hackney than this, so for those looking in, that are not from there, all they see is this and might create fear. Others said that you cannot ignore the fact that this is what does happen; Michael said, "Obviously this is a fictional story so certain elements are placed to increase the tension and make the drama more enjoyable. But I feel it raises awareness to some parents who are blind to this". So we have now watched three episodes and we were locked in a small debate while we ate some snacks.
The young people were split down the middle on how they thought the show was portraying them. Those that were for the show said, "At the end of the day, it is all fiction and that people should not read too much into it". Victor said, "We all know there are ignorant people in society so if someone is ready to pass judgement on a particular group based on a TV drama then it is them I feel sorry for".
Those that opposed said that this is less than three-quarters of the picture; the whole picture shows young people in the Borough of Hackney working hard to achieve greatness. The sad thing is that the negative always seem to outshine the positive in media.
One major issue that they all had in common was that one gang was a made-up gang and the other was a known gang in Hackney that call themselves London Fields, after the nearby neighbourhood of London. They thought that this was a big mistake, because if the prorgramme makers had truly done their research and known about issues and tensions in Hackney, then they would not have used a real area or gang. They felt like it was glorifying them, with Mason saying, "It makes them into a Hollywood gang". They all had serious issues with that and if the makers of Top Boy were aiming for authenticity, that was not the right way to go about it.
To conclude we all enjoyed it; everyone had their opinions on how Hackney was portrayed. For me, when dealing with social issues in a drama, it is hard not to fall into stereotype roles. If they are going to air what some might call a negative perspective of Hackney, we need to take some positives from it. Having a balance next time might be a way to go, showing that there are more young people who choose not to live like this, who are also from the same deprived areas, analysing what the mind-set is like for one person to be involved or not.
From my personal experience, there are more young people striving for success than are in gangs or involved. It was a good watch and I enjoyed it for what it was - I can relate to some of the issues and the barriers young people face. The question is and will continue to be, are having shows like Top Boy that raise serious issues about our community, but which also play on stereotypes, doing more bad than good? You decide!!