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Sussing It Out – Upcoming British Film Deals With Institutionalised Racism

Sus, Clint Dyer

I was reminded by an email I received today of an enquiry I received over the weekend from a regular S&A reader about an upcoming British film called Sus. I’d never heard of the film before last Saturday and could only assume that it was about the so called “sus laws” which were used prolifically in the 1970s and allowed policemen to stop and search, and even arrest, people they suspected were about to commit a crime. These sus laws were used most heavily, and randomly, against black men in the 70s, causing much discord between Black British communities and the police, and it wasn’t until riots in Bristol, London and Liverpool in 1981 that these laws were dropped.

Turns out I was right. And in my online search for information about the film, it turns out that the screenplay was written by Barrie Keeffe, who penned the seminal 1980 British mobster flick, The Long Good Friday, starring Dame Helen Mirren and Bob Hoskins.

It will be interesting to see how the issue of institionalised racism is dealt with in the film as, even though the sus laws were dropped in the 80s, it wasn’t until an enquiry into the 1993 murder in London of Stephen Lawrence, a young black student  that it was officially acknowledged that the criminal justice system in the UK was inherently racist. Apart from Horace Ove‘s 1975 film, Pressure, and Shane MeadowsThis Is England, I can’t think of any British films which have really touched on race in any morally and/or socially conscious way that hasn’t been slightly warm and fuzzy or a little patronising (Secrets and Lies, Dirty Pretty Things).

Perhaps I really mean that I haven’t seen many white filmmakers tackle the issue of racism in the UK without it having a somewhat superficial touchy-feely liberalism to it; although, please feel free to wade-in with suggestions as it’s 2am as I write and my mind has drawn a blank. However, with Keeffe writing the script, I at least expect Sus to have an honest, hard-hitting punch.

The following synopsis was taken from the Brit Film website:

1979: Election Night – a police interview room. Delroy’s pregnant wife has been found dead in a pool of blood and he is brought in as the chief suspect. With all the evidence stacking up against him Delroy continually refuses to confess. He suffers a night of callous humiliation at the hands of two racist coppers, both high on the impending Conservative landslide victory. More concerned with the outcome of the election than establishing the truth they resort to brutal interrogation. The country wakes up to a new dawn with Margaret Thatcher as the new Prime Minister and Delroy’s world is changed forever.

From the writer of British classic ‘The Long Good Friday and based on a true story, Sus is a powerful cry against institutional racism which is as relevant today as ever. It pulls no punches in its depiction of a corrupt system that fails the very people it should protect.

Based on a successful stage play of the same name,  Sus stars Clint Dyer, who also starred in the the Young Vic Theatre production. It was Dyer who came up with the idea of turning it into a film last May and he is one of the film’s producers.

Dyer has a long acting career behind him, mainly in theatre and some TV. In a 2005 interview with Dyer in What’s on Stage, Dyer commented:

“… black playwrights who are being allowed to flourish are … writing about young, disaffected kids with guns. Those stories aren’t necessarily what I want to see. I would like to see work that’s introspective about black people and still shows us with enormous heart. I sometimes find that the way we’re portrayed in film and theatre is slightly negative. There’s no heart. There’s no colour. It’s all, “I’m a bad boy – I start as a bad boy and I end as one.” There doesn’t seem to be much love for these kids who are disaffected, fucked up and desperately need help, and know they’re in need of it.”

As well as being an actor, and now film producer, Dyer has also been a stage director (and possible a film director too if he’s the same Clint Dyer who directed the short, One Of Us?), after coming to an impasse because, as he goes on to say in the same interview:

“I got tired of being in things that were supposedly about black people and racism that made me feel like I’d sold black people down the river, because the take on it was so misguided. It wasn’t because it was necessarily bad. Rather, it was a case of not really understanding the fundamental issues around racism. You can only say that as an actor a certain number of times without being complete trouble!”

Directed by Robert Heath, who has one feature, Out On A Limb (2005), and a couple of shorts behind him, Sus does not yet seem to have a release date.

Although it is still listed by IMDb as being in post production, Duncan Isaac of The New Black, an organisation recently set up to provide existing Black film exhibitors in the UK with financial support to market and publicise their events more effectively,  has seen it and wrote over a month ago:

SUS can become claustrophobic as you watch both officers leaving the room several times, while the SUSpect can’t leave. The dialogue is hard hitting and the performances by the actors are well directed by Robert Heath.

SUS was shot in cinemascope using the state-of-the-art Red camera system at Elstree Studios and on location in East London.

It seems, however, if Isaac’s write up is anything to go by, that Sus may have been picked up in the UK by Channel 4, which may or may not mean it will primarily air on TV, but perhaps with limited theatrical release.  The companies involved in the film’s production are Mensch Films, 3rd Eye Films and Thin Line Productions.

SUS can become claustrophobic as you watch both officers leaving the room several times, while the SUSpect can’t leave. The dialogue is hard hitting and the performances by the actors are well directed by Robert Heath.

SUS was shot in cinemascope using the state-of-the-art Red camera system at Elstree Studios and on location in East London.

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