dir: Menhaj Huda, 2006
Hey young world…
It was 2008. I was busy pursuing high school dreams of graduation, girls, and various forms of extracurricular activities. Luckily, I was able to experience a lot because my alma mater had an ill amount of international kids. As such, there were many a cultural exchange going on.
One of my personal favorite experiences occurred one day kicking back with the boys. This one cat was using some British slang and was putting us on. “Blood.” “Bruv.” “Skene.” “Safe.”
Anyway, dude basically was like “you need to see this movie Kidulthood, before you reach adulthood.”*
So we peeped it. And it blew us away. It was just gritty and ridiculous and dope. And it was the solidification of my love affair with cinema from across the pond—if my years binging Blackadder during the early Netflix days were love at first sight, Kidulthood was marriage.
Anywho, years passed, and I realized I hadn’t baptized myself in the adventures of Trevor & co in a minute.
Thus, enter Kidulthood today. Lord, has this film aged a bit, while strangely retaining a lot of relevance.
For the uninitiated: Kidulthood follows a cadre of teens as they navigate a couple days in the mean streets of London. Kidulthood holds a unique space in time because it’s post-Kids and pre-Skins. This is important because the similarities in both content and approach are obvious between the film and Kids, but also easily herald the coming of Skins and other projects like it.
What I love about Kidulthood is that, in the midst of it’s kitschy-ness (the musical interludes, the sometimes off-beat lines, Noel Clarke’s over-acting), the film is still able to present a jarring reality. These teens are just being teens, but they’re consistently forced or actively participate in situations that are well beyond their years. This is by no means a new concept, but Kidulthood does well to make you feel how these kids are feeling.
The film works specifically because it will hit you differently at 16 than it would at 26 or 40. As a teen, you watch this film and think “this is wild, but entertaining.” As you mature though, the film’s layers peel back like a wig hit by tha choppa.
I for one am going to approach this in two parts, divided by genders presented. Both because it’s easy to analyze, and what interested me most in this viewing.
On the male side, Trevor & co’s misadventures speak to the never-ending struggle to define oneself, alone and within groups. This subtext is deep when you as a viewer are removed from those years, able to understand the fact that masculinity is as much about what you don’t do and who you associate with as it is about belonging and what you do do. Early on, Trevor is swept into the general hooliganism of his boys as they run through the streets. From general kicking back to active acts of foolishness, the boys fight, are profiled, eat, and adventure with gusto. One theme that is strong throughout is this continuous need to prove oneself; to your boys, to yourself, to the world. This constant jockeying for status amongst peers is interesting to watch because, more often than not, it hinges on sexual prowess, violence, and indomitability; the cornerstones of conventional teen masculinity.
In the midst of all of this, Trevor does find himself at odds with these things. In a climactic turn at his Uncle Curtis’ place, he does realize that maybe there can be more to his existence. Or, at the very least, he doesn’t want to follow this path of destructive adultness. Trevor’s late act revelations however are a successful (but doomed) coming to reality. In the moment that he, on some level, understands the suffocating effects that a toxic masculinity based on violence and insecurity have on young men, he himself is snuffed out.
Alisa and Becky’s romps are deceptively subtle in comparison. In a juvenile viewer’s eyes, these two are easily the “struggling nascent single teen mom” and “slutty friend.” But, upon further analysis we can surmise a few things going on in the subtext with these two.
Firstly, Alisa’s arc of empathy is important because it highlights the depth of her character. She clearly cared about the girl who committed suicide, but she’s also (initially) shut in by the pack relationships of high school. Like Sam and his cronies, the mean girls bully, violently. Either you interfere or you watch in horror or not at all. Alisa does however manage to rise above this groupthink and is able to at least claim some independence for herself. This finding of voice and independence is important. This is because she is continuously silenced by her male contemporaries.
Sam tries to blackmail her into sex, and later lies about it and is believed anyway. Trevor in turn believes this story and doesn’t trust Alisa enough to hear her truth. Even in their romp through Becky’s various male (predators) home’s, Alisa can only do so much to assert herself. This gendered dynamic of expression is interesting because it’s one that is heavily relevant to understanding the ways in which gender affect one’s life, depending on where you find yourself on the spectrum. Clearly, in Kidulthood, the words and actions of any man are always paramount versus that of a woman’s. Thus ironically, even in his vulnerable admission of love to Alisa, Trevor actively silences her so that he can get his thoughts out first.
The other half of this is Becky’s experience. As the noted “slag,” Becky is interested only in having fun and staying pretty. Unfortunately, her pursuit of these things have lead her to be sexually preyed upon (because let’s remember, these kids are kids, 17 at most in Sam’s case) by various men. From that skeezy drug dealer and his mans Hamish (never trust a muhfucker named Hamish yo) to the other cat who she affectionately calls “her man.”
While Becky lacks the emotional depth of Alisa, her value lies in the situations she inhabits. As much as she is crass, vapid, and often just a miscreant, she’s still a child. That simple fact, if you’re apt (or old enough) to pick up on it, re-paints everything. She is not the one at fault then, in 99% of the situations she pursues; it’s everyone around her. Namely, it’s the men whom she seeks attention from who are at fault. The cultural environment has dictated that the attention of men is the only way to establish one’s own value, if you are a woman. As such, Becky throws herself, even to the point of being used, at various men in order to define herself.
This theme of usage is also heavy in Sam’s line with his relations with women. The self-worth in these young girls is so nascent that he pushes the first girl to suicide, and his own girlfriend, if you could call her that, is willing to do any and everything for him.
Critically, I don’t think the film is trying to explicitly indict the lack of support for these young girls and the deadly emotional and esteem trappings of teenagerdom. But, somehow, I think it does anyway. If anything, that’s something Kidulthood hints to in it’s title and in the final act. These are just kids. But they’re living in very adult worlds, even within their peer group.
Thus, even the most “adult” of the crew, Sam, gets real not grown when that gun is in his grill. The same way Trevor realizes he’s not a man (at least in Curtis’ world) when he’s cutting that dude’s face. The tragedy then lies not in the kids themselves. It’s in the fact that they are living this life and it’s assumed that this is what it’s supposed to be.
*The joke is that Adulthood was the name of the sequel which came out that year. You can laugh now.
Kidulthood ain’t growing up on Amazon Instant, bruv.
The original Homeboy With A Keyboard ™, dap wants to be an enigma, but he’s pretty transparent. A transplant from “Back East,” he found himself in Oakland writing about alla the fun things. He’s in love with the coco(a) (skinned women and butter,) among other things. Find his rants and retweetery @dapisdope