Sumayyah Daisy Lane, BA History
The Guardian commissioned documentary “Black Sheep” follows the story of Cornelius Walker, a boy whose entire life changed with one of the UK’s most high-profile deaths in 2000 — Damilola Taylor. The same age as Taylor, Cornelius lived a stone’s throw from the victim and is also of Nigerian descent. It was all too familiar. “It could have been one of us”, he tells us. Determined to protect her two sons, Walker’s mother made the decision to move the family from London to a housing estate in Essex. The family soon find themselves living on an estate filled with white racist gangs and we discover that for Cornelius, likening himself to them was the only possible way to fit in.
Blurring the lines between a documentary and a movie, the 27 minute short features adult Cornelius telling his story alongside dramatized scenes of his teenage life. This narration style makes the story even more authentic, as Walker appears to directly address the viewer, making it a genuinely uncomfortable and immersive experience which undoubtably was the intention of director Ed Perkins. This is furthered by the use of non-actors placed in life-like situations in the exact location they happened.
The story is one of heartbreak and frustration, both for Cornelius and the viewer. The older Cornelius comes to terms with his father’s aggression, which led him to turn to violence and gang-related crime as an outlet and place to feel love and belonging. Meanwhile, the viewer quickly becomes frustrated watching a young black boy’s desire to emulate white trash reach the extent of bleaching his skin, straightening his hair, putting on a fake cockney accent, and wearing bright blue contact lenses.
He says simply, “I wanted love. I wanted to feel love. So yeah, just made friends with monster.”
Despite being based on a story that is almost two decades old, “Black Sheep” is highly topical, shedding light on issues of racism, privilege, toxic masculinity, and identity that remain important. It begs the questions: what lengths would we go to in order to fit in? Why are we prepared to compromise who we are?
The film picked up numerous awards, including Best Screenplay at the Aesthetica Short Film Festival and was nominated for an Academy Award last month. Although it did not win an Oscar, the film stays with the viewer and gives a unique perspective on a young man’s struggle and quest for the sense of belonging and self-love.
Black Sheep is available to watch free on theguardian.com.
Credit: Dimitris Lambridis (Guardian Documentary)