Have you ever watched a movie and immediately knew that this would forever be one of your favorites, that you were watching something that would always be special?
Attack the Block is one of those perfect forever movies for me. The movie opens with our teenaged heroes mugging a woman and then getting attacked by an alien, which they promptly chase down and kill. The film then follows this group of London teenagers as they deal with an alien invasion and protect their council block. There’s also a subplot about drug dealing to further play with the ideas of inner city life. It’s a simple enough plot (if you consider any of this simple), but the movie succeeds in its ability to create compelling characters, humor, and fun science-fiction. The movie is hilarious and terrifying and amazing.
The movie’s greatest success is its ability to play with and subvert stereotypes of urban youth, particularly those of young black men. The boys are rightfully skeptical of police and other authority figures. They know that the older white characters in the movie are often afraid of them and they use that to their advantage. The boys are savvy to pop culture and to the world around them.
The group is the the millenial answer to the Goonies, in that they are a motley crew who see out their mission despite the danger, but are far more aware of how their blackness, their maleness, and their poverty places them in a precarious outsider position in their own communities. It’s important to note that their youth is also an essential part of the movie because their character development emphasizes how young black boys are often given the identity of adult too soon.
In many ways they are the ultimate anti-heroes because of these traits. Audiences don’t usually identify with poor, predominantly black urban youth; if you need confirmation of that, look at the movie’s IMDb page for the heated debate regarding audience opinions of the protagonists (hint: the teens’ early mugging pretty much seals their fate in the eyes of most reviewers).
There are times when the symbolism is obvious and heavy-handed, sure, but no more than any other run of the mill action/adventure movie. Also, when your protagonist is a young black man surrounded and aided primarily by teenagers of color, these common action tropes take on different meanings. The movie also succeeds because of a compelling and immensely watchable leads in John Boyega (soon to be in Star Wars: The Force Awakens and if I had my choice, everything else ever). He carries the whole movie and fulfills all the requirements audiences want from their actions heroes.
Because I don’t actually want to ruin the experience of the movie, I’ll let Jerome (Leeon Jones) explain how I feel:
That being said, I present you a sample of the best moments dealing with the complexity of, and microaggressions about race and poverty in a movie about aliens.
- This early scene where they encounter Brewis (Luke Treadaway) waiting for an elevator
- The time Sam (Jodie Whittaker) suggests a strategy.
- When Tia (Danielle Vitalis) succinctly points out the issue with the police.
- Sam makes some broad generalizations about the boys that are quickly dismissed.
Attack the Block is available to rent or buy on Amazon, so if you’re one of the friends I’ve been hounding about this movie since the Star Wars trailer dropped, we will set up a viewing asap. If you’re not, you should also rent the movie soon, just not with me.