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Stab victim tells his story in hard-hitting short film

SURVIVOR: Ethan was stabbed seven times in an unprovoked attack in Peckham in 2017

THE STORIES of black boys and men who survive random knife attacks are vastly overlooked in the mainstream discussions around violent youth crime in the capital and across the UK.

A desire to dispel stereotypes about young black boys had inspired Leon Oldstrong to work on a film which would bring a perspective that’s rarely considered to the national conversation. Then his younger brother was stabbed seven times in an unprovoked attack in Peckham.

The horrific stabbing set a new course for Oldstrong’s film. After 17-year-old Ethan had recovered from his physical injuries and was ready to share his experience, Oldstrong set about documenting his brother coming to terms with not just what happened to him but how people, including those tasked with providing his care, treated him in the aftermath.

NEW NARRATIVES: Director Leon Oldstrong

The result is That’s Not Ours a powerful, factual short film that sees Ethan open up about the attack and the stereotypes he found wrongly assigned to him as a result. At one point, he recounts how a nurse who was responsible for looking after him while he was in the hospital told him he should stop carrying knives. He had never done so. Others told him that what happened to him was because of how he dressed.

When many people see the images of black male stab victims, assumptions of gang membership and affiliation come to mind. It’s essentially a process people go through to rationalise the atrocities and distance themselves from them but it also dehumanises the victims, whether their gang affiliated or not, and suggests in some way they deserved what happened to them.

Because stabbings are widely reported but the trials, if they even happen, don’t get the same coverage, people fill in the gaps, and those gaps are often filled by stereotypes.

While Oldstrong’s work has the capacity to open eyes to an alternate experience of knife crime at odds with those that dominate headlines, and highlight some of the adjacent issues – such as prejudice and institutional racism – which actually many consider needs to be given more prominence in the debate in relation to how they factor into the causes and solutions, he said his primary audience for the film was his “baby brother”.

“I wanted to show Ethan, we see you. If no one else does, we see you,” he said.

The former primary school teacher also wanted the black community to realise that it can make content itself, instead of waiting or relying on other outlets to tell its stories, which can often mean negative stereotypes are perpetuated.

DISCUSSION: Oldstrong was joined by filmmakers Jason Barrett, Femi Oyeniran for a Q&A after a screening of That's Not Ours in London last month

This was a topic that was discussed during the Q&A that followed a screening of the film at Stockwell Playhouse last month, when Oldstrong was joined by filmmakers Jason Barrett, Femi Oyeniran.

Oyeniran, the director of The Intent and The Intent 2 was quizzed on his work which depicts gang violence.

Defending his creative freedom, Oyeniran said: "As a black filmmaker you're under pressure to represent every single black person's experience.”

He said that while his work does cover various elements of the black experience, hit films such as Bad Boys and Juice had also heavily inspired his filmmaking.

“I want to make what I want to make when I want to make...we should all contribute what we can,” he said.

Barrett also agreed with there being a place for different narratives to share the spotlight but he also spoke about audience behaviour and how this can influence the type of content that is made, citing examples of the popularity and success of films that focus around gang violence compared to those that explore familial and romantic love outside of that context. “There's definitely something that the audience has to take some responsibility for,” he said.

Oldstrong expressed that he was focused on creating work that showcased underrepresented stories and helped broaden perceptions of black people’s experiences among both the community itself and those outside of it. Just as he has done with That’s Not Ours.

Watch the trailer for the film below and catch it in full

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