The BBC made a TV movie about Damilola Taylor. You know how I like watching things that make for emotional/uncomfortable watching. I guess since it’s a TV movie, it is neither hoops nor tv but the blog title also says everything in between and this post falls somewhere in that balance.
This is one of those posts that I feel like I will never be able to do justice to no matter how much I try to describe it. There are so many parts to it that I feel like there is one part of the story I wouldn’t touch on so much. I’m going to go ahead and write anyway.
The good thing about this post is that everyone knows the story anyway so I don’t have to be careful about giving too much away but just in case you didn’t, Damilola Taylor was a 10 year old that was stabbed to death in Peckham in the year 2000. Like Stephen Lawrence, his case became a reference point for UK’s knife culture.
The BBC did a good job with the casting. I still have the horror accent of the African character in Dear White people ringing in my head so it was refreshing to hear proper attempts at a Nigerian Accent. Richard Taylor (Damilola’s Dad) is played by Babou Ceesay (from Guerrillas) who’s of Gambian descent I believe. In some parts, he absolutely nails the accent and it wanders at other times. He had the little nuances down – things like “ah ah”. You actually believed he was Nigerian the way he used it. At other times, it almost felt like he was distracted and he forgot what accent he was supposed to be acting in. What was surprising was the way he struggled to get the pronunciation correct for Damilola. I won’t criticise him for that though.
Gloria Taylor (Damilola’s mum) was played by Wunmi Mosaku (who was in Guerrillas as well). She’s of Nigerian descent so I thought she’d have had a stronger Nigerian accent but the accent wasn’t 100% there. I give Babou Ceesay more credit than her because he isn’t of Nigerian descent. Anyway, her performance was good enough to earn her a BAFTA.
I remember when the news about a 10 year old getting stabbed in Peckham broke. I was about 12 or 13 years old at the time and it worried me a lot. Up until that point, all my life, all I wanted was to run away from Nigeria and move to London (duh?). That stuck a knife in my dream and I wondered whether something like that could have happened to me if that dream ever did come through. I remember going to London the summer after Damilola was killed and doing everything I could to stay away from Peckham. On the one hand I’d think who’s going to run up and stab a 13 year old but then I’d remember Damilola was only 10!
Back to the show. For me, the show was about Richard Taylor as much as it was about Damilola. From the outside looking in, I always admired his spirit whether it was fighting gun crime, setting up a charity or speaking about one thing or the other, I thought it took extreme bravery for him to put his emotions to the side or channel his emotions if you like in to making a difference. I have a slightly different view now. I’m not sure how much of this portrayal is deliberate but it seemed to me like he almost put his family second. Helping kids stay out of trouble or speaking at an event seemed like they were more important than making sure Tunde (his other son) was straight. It almost reminded me (and I know this is a big stretch) of Muhammed Ali and Martin Luther King. Their families hardly ever saw them (in their prime) because they “had a higher calling”. The fate of the world seemingly more important. I thought Tunde needed attention from his Dad and was somewhat neglected. Meanwhile his Dad was becoming a hero to many.
There was a scene which I thought captured something I find interesting about Nigerian parents. It was on Tunde’s graduation day. I was happy for Tunde because I thought he earned that degree almost on his own without his dad’s help (blame the BBC for how the dad was portrayed). His Dad takes a look at him and says something like well done, you look nice. It felt like that was his dad trying to pay him a compliment out of guilt. I was expecting an apology from the dad and his Dad admitting that he hadn’t been there for him. In his Dad’s mind, complimenting the outfit was his apology (that’s what it seemed like to me). I can see many Nigerian Dads doing the same thing. Bribing you with money when they offend you (don’t expect any apology).
In many ways, Mrs. Taylor kept everything together (as mums do). She was the opposite of the Dad in that, it seemed like she put the family first. She moved to England with the three kids initially and was even blamed by the Dad for Damilola getting killed. I didn’t even know she died of a heart attack in 2008 real life. Such a tragic story.
Shout out to the BBC though. They don’t have as big a budget as the American companies so I find that the focus in these sorts of tv movies is on the story and this is a story I think they told well.