LGBT Movies: Young Soul Rebels (1991)

Young Soul Rebels is a thriller set amidst the London music scene of the late 1970’s. A pair of DJs find themselves mixed up in a murder. The mystery takes a back seat to a tour of clashing subcultures: Gay and Straight, Black and White, Socialist and Nationalist, Punk and Soul. Some subplots get lost in the shuffle but the characters are good company.

The film would mark the feature debuts of director Isaac Julien and actress Sophie Okonedo. Julien would win a Critic’s Choice Award at the Cannes Film Festival. Okonedo would receive an Oscar nomination in 2004 for Hotel Rwanda. Sadly, the film would fade from memory due to limited distribution. If you can track down a DVD it’s worth a watch.

You can learn more in my spoiler filled recap.

Act One: A Murder

Caz (Mo Sesay) and Chris (Valentine Nonyela) at the station.

Scene One: A London Park, 1977
(A white man hooks up with a black man, then kills him. The victim’s cassette radio records the murder.)

Scene Two: Pirate Radio Station
CHRIS & CAZ (DJs): This is Soul Patrol signing off!
CHRIS (Straight and Extroverted): I’m going to take our demo to Metro Radio!
CAZ (Gay and Introverted): Our station is illegal. They’ll shut us down.
CHRIS: Are our names really Chris and Caz? Won’t that get confusing?
CAZ: Would you prefer the recapper call us GAY DJ and STRAIGHT DJ?
CHRIS: I guess not.
AN EXTRA: Your friend Terry was murdered in the park.

Scene Three: London Streets
KID SISTER: I found a broken cassette radio in the park. Can you sell it?
CHRIS: I’ll see what it’s worth.
NATIONAL FRONT GANG: We mock you and your aspirations of career mobility.
CHRIS: Whatever. Ken, can you sell me a new mixer?
KEN (A timid mechanic): I’ll see what I can do.
(CHRIS hears the murder tape in the cassette radio.)
CHRIS: I should probably do something about this. Eventually.

Act Two: Career Plans

Tracy (Sophie Okonedo) and Chris (Valentine Nonvela) are snubbed at Metro Radio.

Scene Four: Metro Radio Office
TRACY (A Personal Assistant. Dating Chris): Boss, I have a DJ you should hear.
STATION EXECUTIVE: His music is too… different.
CHRIS: Were you expecting Elvis Presley?  

Scene Five: Police Station
POLICE: Someone’s reported you as a suspect. You had the cassette radio.
(The police interrogate CHRIS and throw racial slurs. TRACY gets a lawyer to rescue him.)
CHRIS: Now I can’t give them the tape. They’ll use it against me.
TRACY: It’s another man’s voice on the tape. You could have someone else give it to them. This plot point is nonsense.

Caz (Mo Sesay) and Billibud (Jason Durr) are snubbed at a Night Club.

Scene Six: Garage
(CHRIS plays the tape of the murder. KEN overhears and glares at him.)
KEN: (to the audience) Yes, I’m the killer. Who else would it be?
CAZ: I can’t do the broadcast tonight. I’m playing the Anti-Jubilee concert with Billibud.
CHRIS: Your boyfriend’s name is Billibud?
CAZ: Like the Herman Melville novel. Billy Bud.
CHRIS: Pretentious. I disapprove of you playing a concert for white audiences.
CAZ: Well I disapprove of you telling Metro Radio about our illegal station.
(CAZ storms off before CHRIS can play him the tape.)

Scene Seven: Posh Night Club
(The gays throw racial slurs at CAZ. The straights throw homophobic insults. BILLIBUD picks fights.)
BILLIBUD (A Socialist DJ. Dating Caz.): Screw you all.
CAZ: Billibud, your white privilege is showing.
(They go to BILLIBUD’S apartment and have sex.)

Act Three: Confrontation

Ken (Dorian Healy) attacks Chris (Valentine Nonyela)

Scene Eight: Pirate Radio Station
(CHRIS finds the studio has been ransacked. KEN attacks CHRIS.)
KEN: I did it because I’m ashamed of my homosexuality! Give me the tape, pretty boy!
CHRIS: I never suspected you. I thought it was one of the National Front guys! Or Billibud! Or the Radio Station Executive. Now that would have been a twist!
KEN: GIVE ME THE TAAAPE!!!
(CHRIS kicks him and escapes out the window.)

Scene Nine: The Anti-Jubilee Concert
BILLIBUD: I disapprove of you working for a capitalist radio station.
TRACY: You’re wearing a Vivienne Westwood shirt.
CHRIS: Ken’s the killer! I have to warn Caz!
TRACY: He’s on the stage.
(The NATIONAL FRONT starts a brawl and lights the stage on fire. CAZ escapes. CHRIS plays the tape of the murder through the sound system.)
CHRIS: Ken, I know you’re out there!
(KEN leaps on stage to grab the tape. He falls through the burning floor to his death.)

CAZ: Cut to a few hours later…
(CHRIS, TRACY, CAZ and BILLIBUD dance at a party as the credits roll.)

THE END

God Save the Queen

Caz (Mo Sesay) and Billibud (Jason Durr) don’t care for the Jubilee.

Young Soul Rebels is an essential piece of Black Queer Resistance.

Oluwatayo Adewole

I went into Young Soul Rebels knowing nothing about Royal Jubilees, pirate radio or the clash between soul and punk music. I knew a bit about Britain’s National Front from watching 1985’s My Beautiful Laundrette. The two films share similar narrative structures and examinations of British class politics. Some critics, like Roger Ebert, were displeased with the screenplay’s lack of momentum. Others, like Ruby Rich, praised the frank treatment of the gay interracial romance. I was glad to track it down and am happy to recommend it to anyone interested in the New Queer Cinema of the early 1990’s.

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