Rapman on gritty crime drama ‘Blue Story’, and how to solve London’s gang violence problem and knife crime epidemic

‘Blue Story, out this Friday, is the heartbreaking tale of two lifelong friends turned against each other by London’s brutal gang culture. Andrew Onwubolu – aka Rapman, who wrote and directed the film based on his experiences growing up in Lewisham – knows only too well how territorial allegiance can ruin lives. Here, in his own words, is how he sees the situation – and how he thinks it can be alleviated.

Rapman: “I remember the first time I heard about someone getting stabbed. It echoed through school for days with different accounts of what happened. ‘I heard he got knifed five times,’ said one person. ‘I heard it was three times,’ said another. I was shocked and it’s stuck with me all these years later. When I was writing Blue Story, I decided to put it all down on paper.

I grew up in Deptford, Lewisham, and went to school in Camberwell, which is basically in the borough of Peckham. There was a big rivalry between the two areas and I got attacked on several occasions. One time, this kid wasn’t happy that I got the better of him in a fight and waited outside my school with his whole group of friends. I got jumped, but luckily a group of my own friends intervened and I only got a couple of bruises.

Another time, a friend and I were sat on the top deck of an empty bus when we saw a group of guys running to catch up. We were in the Lewisham territory, but the boys who came on the bus were from Peckham. They wouldn’t have gone into another gang’s territory empty-handed, so I was sure they had knives at least. I remember thinking we should just jump out of the back window, but I was too scared to hang from a double decker bus. 

When they cornered us, they called me a ghetto boy – because I was from Lewisham – and told us to shut up and hand over our phones. Then, one of the older boys came through and said, “Leave ‘em, they look like young’uns”. He must have thought we were too small to pose a threat. When they walked away, back down the bus, I thought it was a miracle.

Back then, during the 2000s, there weren’t a lot of stabbings. I would hear mainly about shootings. But now, I feel like every kid has a knife. They think they have to carry weapons to protect themselves. Then, if someone gets killed, their friends want revenge and then if they get someone, the other side wants revenge too. It’s a crazy cycle, but there are ways to stop it.

One is to prevent the kids from picking up a knife in the first place. You could monitor everyone that gets kicked out of school or suspended – the repeat offenders doing bad things. They should be on a register and the government needs to give them counselling. 

Rapman and the cast of ‘Blue Story’. Credit: Nick Wall.

In that counselling, you never know, you might discover why they’re acting out. It could turn out to be a family situation – maybe an older gang member is putting pressure on his younger brother to be like him. With counselling, you could stop that. You could do something to take him off that path before it gets too late. If it’s going under the radar, it’s kind of like abuse and no one knows about it. The kid can’t speak to anyone about it and he’ll end up doing what he’s being pressured into doing. 

Ultimately, you need to get them early, on the school playground, because that’s where it starts. More teaching assistants and extra curricular activities would help too. When I was at school, there were 30 children in one class with one teacher. How much can one person really do in that situation? I was fortunate, because I had a strong household at home, and my parents wouldn’t let me get into too much trouble. Others aren’t so lucky. It’s a money issue, and a political issue, but this should be a super high priority for the government. I’m not sure if it is at the moment.

I don’t know what’s going wrong with their anti-gang campaigns right now, but they could definitely do more. It’s not gonna happen over night, it’s gonna be a gradual thing. You can’t look at these campaigns now and say, what’s going on? You have to come back in 10 years time and compare it to now and see what the difference is.

Who knows who will be in power then. But funnily enough, Jeremy Corbyn followed me on Twitter yesterday. So I don’t know, maybe he’s interested in what I have to say. I don’t know if I want to meet with him, but he should watch Blue Story. If he agrees with what I’m trying to say, then he should get behind it and that goes for Boris as well. They should all be on the same team for this, regardless of who’s in the house. If they’re not, it’s never going to get solved.”

Blue Story arrives in cinemas on November 22

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