Hood Dramas: Celebrating The Genre Plagued With Criticism
24 Sep 2022
With the dust now more than settled on a chaotic season of Top Boy, viewers were left confused after a tragic and unexpected season finale. Now, with filming for its final season underway, there was no better time to shine a light on British hood dramas that have graced our screens in the past decade.
From an international perspective, the genre may not be well-known, with the attention swallowed by the Downton Abbey’s and Bridgerton’s of the world. Why is that? Because there is a trance-like fixation with the royal family and Regency/Edwardian era. There are murmurs of time inaccuracies in which the shows were set, but the love affair with historical period dramas is second-to-none.
In the early years, hood dramas failed to find a place on mainstream channels, not surprisingly; however, this didn’t deter anyone from creating them.
Discovering the source of where the U.K were influenced is not hard to find, taking us on a trip back to the mid/late 80s America. During that period, the world witnessed a surge of head-turning gangsta rap, coinciding with movies that amplified the troubled and dysfunctional lives that many young black men in the U.S were going through. For me, the first movie of that nature I stumbled across and loved was the Dennis Hopper directed, Colors, set in Los Angeles. Following on from this, we saw rawer and realistic movies that, up until now, are applauded. There are many memorable movies on the list: Juice, Boyz n the hood and Menace II Society, all being the usual suspects.
Now, leaping to the noughties, the influenced creatives brought their appreciation to the screens of London. The earliest and arguably most popular imitation I and many others remember is Kidulthood.
The coming-of-age movie follows the lives of mischievous and fearless teenagers from predominantly working-class backgrounds. Kidulthood still remains as one of the many movies that played a large role a lot of people’s teenage years – it was plastered with violence, fly-on-the-wall scenes and more. The simultaneous popularity of Grime in the U.K would play a pivotal role in the fashion sense seen in the movie, a style that suffocated the urban scene in that period.
The movie showcased the infamous Burberry cap and A9 Akademiks tracksuit. Dizzie Rascal introduced us to the latter, wearing the tracksuit in his legendary “I Luv u” video. The influence was evident throughout the movie, celebrating the high-in-demand fashion at the time, commonly worn by the Black British diaspora.
Despite the genres stuttering start in the capital – it gradually opened up Pandora’s box of similar productions set in council-estate congested areas – mirroring the experiences that many who have lived in that environment have witnessed.
Like many other genres, innovative ways of capturing an audience are attempted. This was the case in 2010, with the Mo Ali-directed movie, Shank. Set in a 2015 dystopian London, gangs ruled over a decaying city after the fall of society. Fans of the Netflix show, Sex Education, will recognise the lead in the movie, Junior (Kedar Williams-Stirling). The fresh-faced protagonist, along with his crew (Paper Chaserz), embark on a man-hunt to avenge the death of his brother, Rager (Bashy). With the economy in complete turmoil, the gang do what they can to survive, make money and plan their act of revenge.
As the doors began to widen, it allowed room for the commission of shows of that same ilk. One of the first we saw was highly-acclaimed Channel 4 series, Top Boy: Summerhouse. The show had a two-season stint on the channel, where eventual fans became introduced to hungry-for-the-crown Dushane (Ashley Walters) and his brother-in-arms, Sully (Kano). Not comfortable with a mediocre living arrangement in East London, the two became figureheads of the prominent money-making drug scheme in their area. Heightened themes of love, loss and revenge are displayed throughout, not only during Summerhouse, but in the 2019 Netflix revival backed by Drake.
With Top Boy’s current Netflix residency, viewers were left confused with the third season getting labelled as season one. A small price to pay for salvation. The Canadian rapper has a known admiration for the London scene, showing genuine support for the artists. The certified lover boy is known for his use of London slang, often used as an alternative way to communicate and express emotion – it is one of the most distinctive parts of urban culture. Top Boy and other productions, although excessive at times, do well to blend it in, being consistent with relatability.
Attempts to create the next best hood drama have been rampant, with an array of contenders in the mix. An example of this is the artist-filled movie, The intent. The attraction towards the original and sequel stemmed from its Top Boy-esque concepts and dialogue, whether intentional or not. The Added mixture of talented artists, with the chemistry high throughout, helped with the attraction it had. Krept & Konan, Fekky and Ghetts, were just a few that clocked up screen time. They are action-packed movies that deserve more recognition.
There is a healthy flow of creatives aiming to climb the ladder of success, with a certain someone by the name of Rapman achieving this.
On April 8th 2018, we saw the multi-talented wordsmith, Andrew Onwubolu MBE, showcase his creativity with the release of YouTube trilogy, Shiro’s story.
It was an inventive way of depicting the lives of countless youths today. Rapman, with his wordplay and attention to detail, took viewers on an insightful journey that would captivate millions. The plot centred around the main character, Shiro (Joivan Wade) and his best friend Kyle (Percelle Ascott) – both embroiled in crime – but one having a dark secret that will ultimately detach the two for a long time. Incorporating themes of love, hate and betrayal, backed by Rapman’s narration, it was a moment that took the U.K by storm.
Onwubolu did not stop there, creating an unmissable wave in the scene. His directorial acuteness was later confirmed with the release of Blue Story in 2019, a feature adaption of his YouTube series with the same name. The movie focused on, Marco aka Bricker (Micheal Ward) and Timmy aka Younger Madder (Stephen Odubola), former childhood friends turned foes. Rather than glamorising, Rapman guides us through the tragic truths of gang culture and highlights the consequences of going down that path. With tensions heightened between Peckham and Deptford, Lewisham (Ghetto Boys), the domino effect of ‘riding’ for your postcode becomes a battle for survival.
Rapman may not have imagined how popular the show would get, allowing room for exciting cameos from Headie One, Konan and the original Top Boy, Ashley Walters. To say it was a hit is an understatement. I would describe it as a memorable moment in the scene that will have an ever-lasting impact.
Onwubolu did not stop there, creating an unmissable wave in the scene. His directorial acuteness was confirmed with the release of Blue Story in 2019, a feature adaption of his YouTube series. The movie focused on, Marco aka Bricker (Micheal Ward) and Timmy aka Younger Madder (Stephen Odubola), former childhood friends turned foes. Rather than glamorising, Rapman guides us through the tragic truths of gang culture and highlights the consequences of going down that path. With tensions heightened between Peckham and Deptford, Lewisham (Ghetto Boys), the domino effect of ‘riding’ for your postcode becomes a battle for survival.
After its release in cinemas, it was sadly inevitable that controversy wouldn’t be too far behind, proven when it became banned from Showcase and Vue cinemas for some time after a brawl broke out with youths at Birmingham’s Star City. The ban and obvious racially motivated actions didn’t halt the success of the movies – amassing positive plaudits nationally and strengthening his already high status.
Although controversial, these dramas are appreciated – providing a gateway for even more Black-led roles on our TV screens – giving young talent a chance to showcase their abilities to a larger audience.
The genre in the UK has grown over the years, following Drake’s backing of Top Boy and the relevance it displays – it’s only a matter of time until we see it evolve and provide us with high-production dramas that get cinema seats filled and praise on social media.
Words: John-Mark Collymore