A teenage girl’s poem has been turned in to a powerful short film which reflects on her experiences of the systemic inequities that she and other black youths in the UK face on a daily basis, both in and out of school.
Abi Simms poem, “Being Black & 6Teen” provides a compelling and distinctly British insight into growing up young and black and was penned the day she found out about the brutal killing of George Floyd at the hands of police in America.
The intimate portrait contrasts the hardship and beauty of the 16-year-old’s life growing up in Thornton Heath.
Commenting on her film’s message, Abi, said: “What I want people to take from this film is the misconception of what it is to be black and what it is to be 16. I labelled a few stereotypes that we hear from a young age and just hoped people would understand what it really feels like.”
Abi’s poem was chosen to feature in the film which she also stars in, as part of a project run by Football Beyond Borders, a pioneering charity which works to help spark youth creativity.
The Beyond Bars campaign brings to life the immense potential young people possess, and how with the right support they can flourish.
The project began with virtual writing workshops, led by professional writers, spoken word artists and creatives, who held sessions on Zoom for more than 60 young people. The participants, ranging in age from 13 to 16, were asked to write personal poems based on their lives in lockdown with the most promising applicant given the opportunity to have their poems turned into a short film by production company Caviar directed by Lainey Richardson and produced by Tash Bloom.
The two winners, Abi and Yassin Slimani-Mendez, 14, won the chance to turn their words into short films
Abi has talked about her writing techniques and how important the challenge was to her to alleviate the isolation of lockdown: “Some days I just wanted to close myself away not speak to a single soul, other days I’d be all for a conversation. But most of my time spent in solitary I was antisocial, my phone remained on DnD, and I kept the conversation minimal.
“When applying they asked us questions like why do we write…and I simply said I write for a distraction.
“When I write I can get lost in my piece and I think that’s what makes my connection to it so unique, I never know what the outcome is, neither do I know how many pages will get screwed up till I have my final piece but I do know that it will always be hard hitting and a thought bender.
“This programme gave me hope that there is light at the end of the tunnel.
“When I write my inspiration usually comes from musicians, for example in Being Black and 6teen there is a shot of different quotes that I have on my wall, and there’s a variety of Tupac, MLK, Rosa Parks, Colin Kaepernick and even Maya Angelo…to name a few.
“They all have different flows and ways of writing/talking and a couple steps before I take pen to paper, I always do my research.”
Abi also talks about the experience of producing the film:“Day one on the shoot, there were vans parked up outside my house from early morning waiting to unload, there were so many people coming in and out, it was unreal.
“Lainey and Tash both poked their head in the door to say ‘hi’ and that ‘it’ll be great’ and I was quickly rushed upstairs to change and get my hair done. At least I know what it’s like to be a proper actress for 3 days ;).
“When I saw the BTS shots, it looked like something straight out of TopBoy, and I still think the same.”
Lainey Richardson, who directed both films, said: “Abi’s poem brought tears to my eyes the first time I read it. So unique to Abi’s own experience, yet so powerful in its ability to articulate sentiments that I think a lot of people can relate to, it felt like such an important and relevant perspective to bring to screen. I really think we may have discovered a star in the making!”
Abi has gone on to lead a Co-op Christmas campaign Everyone’s Giving Double again performing a spoken word piece focussing on life under Covid.
Jasper Kain, who co-founded FBB in 2014, has seen first hand how lacking the support for the UK’s most vulnerable young people has been: “Being a black teenager comes with lots of stereotypes and expectations that have to be navigated, and Abi’s poem expertly confronts this. It showcases her supreme talents and the changing face of modern Britain.”