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Public Enemy / Private Friends (1992)
 

BFI

Main image of Public Enemy / Private Friends (1992)
 
35mm, colour, 18 mins
 
DirectorDanny Thompson
Production CompanyBFI Production Board
ProducerNadine Marsh-Edwards
ScreenplayDanny Thompson
PhotographyPhilip Chavannes
MusicDanny Thompson

Cast: Matthew Barrett (Matthew); Paul Hathan (Paul); Peter Savizdon (Peter); Brian Bovell (Bro')

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Three young Brixton homeboys, Matthew, Peter and Paul - 'The Young Disciples' - are on a mission to find their missing Public Enemy concert ticket.

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Set in London in the early 1990s, this short comedy, written and directed by first-timer Danny Thomas, pastiches common conceptions and stereotypes of blackness and the black male. The quest of the three young protagonists for Public Enemy concert tickets becomes an expression of their desire to assert their identity, drawing on the hip hop group's status as powerful icons of confident black identity and uncompromising political militancy.

Styling themselves the 'Young Disciples', Matthew, Peter and Paul represent three different archetypes of black male identity. Thomas temporarily steps out of the narrative to introduce the idealised alter-egos of his characters: Matthew becomes an overzealous rapper, assaulting the camera with his ineffectual rhymes; Peter, in African costume, is an over-sexed African king, eating grapes in his harem; Paul is a politically conscious activist, educating the community. These diverse - and equally improbable - personas caricature the self-perceptions of the young black male: his boastful, extroverted nature, his need to exert his masculinity through bravado, his vivacious sexual nature. This macho posturing is undermined by the young men's encounters, as when Peter is ridiculed by a one-time lover and her friend. Similarly, when Bro', a rival posse leader, brags about his ownership of a BMW car (commonly termed 'Black Man's Wheels'), but when its real owner - a woman - appears, his masculine fa├žade crumbles.

The film's humour lies in exposing how far the Young Disciples' self-images contradict their true selves and the way others see them. But Thomas retains genuine affection for his characters; their greatest asset, their friendship and solidarity, are real enough.

Fola Odumosu

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Complete film (17:34)
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