Yardie, Idris Elba’s directorial debut, brings Brixton into focus

News at Eden Harper | 19/09/2018

Movie icon Idris Elba has gone behind the camera for the first time with his directorial debut, Yardie, and the Londoner's efforts have been praised, with one critic suggesting the flick is "richly authentic".

Part of that authenticity can be found in the depiction of street life circa 1973 in Brixton, where a young man has arrived carrying drugs on a mission from Jamaica. His trip comes 10 years after witnessing his brother’s assassination and following his "adoption" by a powerful gang boss. He reunites with his girlfriend and their daughter, but then the past catches up with them.

Victor Headley, the Jamaican-born British author of the novel Yardie*, on which the film is based, made the journey from his country of birth to the UK when he was 12. He characterises the streets of Brixton with a keen eye in the book and Elba manages to bring this originality to the big screen.

Of course, the importance of Brixton -- dubbed the capital of black British culture -- with regard to the UK’s Jamaican community has been well documented. But Elba's new movie gives us the chance to dig a little deeper into the roots and their significance (and at this point it should be noted that Hackney, too, is heavily featured in the film).

As you might imagine, the journey can be charted back to the Windrush migration in 1948 (or as far back as when Jamaica became a British colony in 1655!) where the melting pot simmered endlessly to produce a mixture of both British and Caribbean traditions. And there is nowhere better to discover than the Black Cultural Archives (BCA)-- located on Windrush Square in the heart of Brixton. The BCA was established in 1981 and has been housed in its iconic building in Windrush Square since 2014. As the BCA website informs us: "It is the only national repository of Black history and culture in the UK. We are a public institution open to everyone.

"Our unparalleled and growing archive collection offers insight into the history of people of African and Caribbean descent in Britain. Our work recognises the importance of untold stories and providing a platform to encourage enquiry and dialogue. We place people and their historical accounts at the heart of everything we do."

Co-founder Len Garrison, who asked “where are our heroes, martyrs and monuments?”, has his very own bronze bust at the BCA HQ and his image can also be found on the Brixton Pound, a local currency that is available as an alternative to the pound sterling.

The biggest concentration of Jamaicans lived in and around Somerleyton Road and Geneva Road in the years after Windrush and it is these folks who would have enjoyed the first Caribbean Carnival in 1959 (said to have been started by Claudia Jones, publisher of the first major black newspaper The West Indian Gazette), which was the forerunner to the now world-famous Notting Hill Carnival.

If you’ve not seen Yardie, we can recommend it. It may be Idris Elba’s first directorial project. It most certainly won’t be his last…

*Yardie was originally a Jamaican word for someone from your home, before it became linked to the upsurge of criminal gangs in the 1990s.