Why it was wrong to ban Blue Story

We are over-policing black culture but we’re also oversensitive about the knife-crime debate.

Luke Gittos


Vue announced yesterday that Andrew Onwubolu’s film, Blue Story, will return to its cinemas. The film is about two young friends who become rivals in a postcode street war. It was initially pulled by Vue following a mass brawl at its StarCity cinema in Birmingham on Saturday involving up to 100 teenagers.

Vue said the decision to pull the film was taken following ‘over 25 significant incidents’ within the first 24 hours of the film’s release across its 60 sites. The film was also pulled by Showcase Cinemas, another national chain, shortly after Vue’s announcement.

Vue’s initial decision attracted a justified backlash. An open letter signed by BAME campaigners said it was ‘disproportionate’ to sanction the film for ‘an incident that had no relation to [it]’. Some reports suggest that most cinemagoers were queuing to see Frozen 2 rather than Blue Story – it is unknown whether any of those involved have actually seen Blue Story.

Kehinde Andrews writes in the Guardian that the controversy around the film ‘occurs in the context of a wider clampdown on black culture’. Vue denies that the decision was taken solely in light of the incident in Birmingham and also says it was ‘categorically not’ related to race. But Andrews’ concern is surely justified when you consider the current moral panic over drill music. Last year, the Metropolitan Police issued Criminal Behaviour Orders against a drill collective called 1011 to prevent them from making ‘violent’ music. Police chiefs even suggested that anti-terror laws could be used to convict rappers who are identified in what they call ‘gang-related’ music videos.

Alongside the over-policing of culture, the risk of anti-black bias in policing serious crime is real. Consider the doctrine of ‘joint enterprise’. This is a legal doctrine that allows anyone to be convicted of a serious crime in which they ‘encourage or assist’ the principal offender. In cases of so-called gang violence, this means that very large groups of young people can end up in the dock for a crime committed by just one person. The police often target large networks of young black men because of an ill-defined connection to a crime, based on an alleged ‘gang affiliation’, even when such an affiliation is tenuous. Consider the murder of Abdul Hafidah in 2016. Only one person committed the murder, but 11 people were jailed because of the joint-enterprise principle.

The Blue Story ban is complex, however. There are real issues around the over-policing of black culture and the law around serious violence does arguably overreach. But there is another story here, which is the violence itself. The brawl has largely been forgotten in the response to the Blue Story ban.

We know very little about what triggered the mass brawl in Birmingham. Images of those involved in the fight emerged on social media, showing a large group of Asian boys, one of whom was brandishing a long machete. None of them looked over the age of 17. Some footage has emerged of the incident but it is difficult to interpret. Despite the apparent unknowns, of which there are many, we do know that a large gang of teenagers engaged in a brawl involving weapons. Five people were arrested and seven police officers are injured.

Questions around the policing of black culture and bias in the criminal-justice system should not prevent us from discussing the very real and serious issues which persist around youth violence. Appalling, nihilistic violence among young people is still a major problem.

In October, footage emerged of an attack in Maidstone following a concert by the rapper, MoStack. Twenty-one-year-old Andre Bent was fatally stabbed following a brawl outside the gig. The person who filmed the footage can be heard laughing as the attack goes on. By November, the number of knife murders in London had reached 130 in a year – an 11-year high.

It was wrong to pull Blue Story. It was wrong even to assume that it was fueling violence in the first place. No film, song or artwork is ever responsible for violent crime. But we also cannot afford to avoid discussion of the nihilism that is driving so much youth violence – a discussion that many people are also trying to shut down.

Luke Gittos is a spiked columnist and author. His new book Human Rights – Illusory Freedom: Why We Should Repeal the Human Rights Act, is published by Zero Books. Order it here.

To enquire about republishing spiked’s content, a right to reply or to request a correction, please contact the managing editor, Viv Regan.


Lord Anubis

29th November 2019 at 10:09 am

“No film, song or artwork is ever responsible for violent crime. ” It is often stated that what people see in the media has no effect on their behaviour. And yet, how is this particular circle squared when one considers that one of the worlds largest and most profitable industries is based ENTIRELY on the premise that peoples behaviours can be influenced through media exposure.

antoni orgill

28th November 2019 at 10:33 pm

Interested how you can not know whether there’s any causality in terms of the banned movie’s content and the ensuing gangsta melee ..? If not, it was merely a coincidence that a riot broke out in the cinema where ‘Blue Story’ was showing … come off it.

Matt Ryan

28th November 2019 at 9:40 pm

Jim Lawrie

28th November 2019 at 5:29 pm

Why, Mr Gittos, do you use the word group when you know fine well the prosecution has to prove they were acting together, engaged in mob behaviour and aware of that.

What difference does it make what age someone with a machete “looks”?

It’s a pity there were not armed officers there to plug a few of them.

Christopher Tyson

28th November 2019 at 5:27 pm

‘While they’re standing in the welfare lines
Crying at the doorsteps of those armies of salvation
Wasting time in the unemployment lines
Sitting around waiting for a promotion
Don’t you know
They’re talkin’ ’bout a revolution’
-Tracy Chapman

‘They sentenced me to twenty years of boredom
For trying to change the system from within’
– Leonard Cohen

Certainly the anti-racist state has the perfect alibi of institutional anti-racism while being completely racist in practice. But many black people are not involved in youth culture or youthful nihilism and so forth, and maybe I can put in a word for those who despite ubiquitous inclusion and diversity policies remain ‘sitting around waiting for a promotion’. Finally in our therapeutic state the psyche professionals are seen as the high priest of our time, deferred to by celebrities and Royal Princes. Of course if you are a Royal prince the shirks will bow to you and call you ‘sir’, if you are sectioned to an under-resourced inner city psychiatric hospital you experience might not be so edifying.

Jim Lawrie

28th November 2019 at 5:20 pm

Nobody said the film caused violence. It just attracted scum who take a machetes and knives to the cinema with them. I’m sure if they were going to see Goldilocks they’d take the same weaponry.

Francis Lonergan

28th November 2019 at 3:11 pm

To decide not to show a movie is not to ban it, it is just not showing it.

Jim Lawrie

28th November 2019 at 5:16 pm

Exactly. Any venue is free to show it, provided they can shoulder the loss of revenue as civilised human beings stay away from all the other films due to be shown at the same time.

Jim Lawrie

28th November 2019 at 6:32 pm

And the extra £5k per night security.

Lord Anubis

29th November 2019 at 10:12 am

It is a financial decision. If they show this movie then people with families will chose not to go and see Frozen 2.

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