I watched a film named 'My Brother the Devil' the other day. It wasn't a perfect film and I should warn you of plot spoilers before I carry on for I am going to necessarily give away its twist. But it deals with a subject not often spoken about; that of homosexuality in the young, male, often ethnic, populations of Britain's inner city council estates.
It is hard to write a post about this without beginning to use words like 'tough' and 'gritty' and lapsing into cliché. However, one of the cruxes of the film is that young men do not have great options growing up in this environment, jobs and opportunities are not generally available to them and therefore they fall into a life of petty gang crime, drugs running and easy money. Is this a cliché in itself? Possibly. The narrative certainly omits the existence of charities or youth workers that hope to create a difference amongst these population groups, however it can't be denied that gangs exist in Britain's cities and that their members are seemingly not coming from the better-off areas.
Gangs provide not only cash, but also status and protection. They operate upon the ideas of strength and respect. What director Sally El Hosain paints very vividly in the first half of her film is the intensely masculine, muscular setting this creates. No sign of weakness can be tolerated, and homosexuality in this world is very much a sign of weakness. Whether individual gang members have ingrained homophobia on a personal level or not, to ensure the continuing strength of the gang collective a weak link in their chain must be erased. To come out as gay in such a world is virtually unthinkable.
My Brother the Devil is set in Hackney, an area of London that has become increasingly metrosexual in recent years. The influx of arty types, hipsters and creatives has seen good-time pubs like the Lord Nelson boast a 'polysexual welcome policy' and edgy gay nights like Gutterslut stray to the Mare Street warehouses. It's arguably easy to forget that side by side with this burgeoning colourful carnival lies the depiction of El Hosain's film. And not entirely inconceivable that some of these closeted boys are the ones that the gay hipsters buy their drugs from on a Friday night. 'Live east, die young' is the graffiti slogan that has absurdly made its way from the estate walls to the fashion T-shirts of Hackney's streets.
In liberal Britain right now it seems the gay marriage law is about to be passed, the country is, in effect, rewriting what it believes to be right. Is there any chance this ethos can spread to those young men who are portrayed in El Hosain's film?
Well, it seems first we need to sort out their lives. This is the world from where the angry rioters rose that hot summer of 2011 and where that anger still simmers. Fahim Alam, an Oxford law graduate falsely imprisoned during the civil upheaval, has made his own documentary film about this matter, entitled 'Riots Reframed'. Its lasting message is that the social unrest is not over.
As has been witnessed in Eastern Europe, the rise of right-wing groups with ties to fascism is often closely linked to the people's fiscal wellbeing, or lack thereof. Anti-gay marriage group Manif pour Tous in France used the insidious argument of no equal rights until the country's economic situation is sorted out to attempting beguiling a moderate middle ground of the population to their cause. When people are not living on the poverty line, when they have opportunities, jobs and career trajectories, it is easier to support harmony, and be accepting of all groups in society.
So perhaps to see the acceptance of homosexuality in 'the endz', we need to concentrate on improving the wider social cohesion of the country, and work towards removing the need for these gangs in the first place.