New Brixton film tackles sporting taboos

Play The Game is the title of a new short film starring Malcolm Kamulete of Top Boy fame which will tackle homophobia and racism in professional football. We caught up with writer Alexander Walters and director Sasha Nashwani to find out more.

Play the Game - Sasha (left) and Alexander (right)
The creative duo behind Play the Game – director Sasha (left) and writer Alex (right)

Play The Game is set in 1980s Brixton and Sheffield, and is seeking crowdfunding so it can be pitched to top TV executives for a potential series later this year. Its creators Alex and Sasha hope the project will highlight the stigma facing gay sportsmen in a way that has never been done before.

“It’s 2015 and this is still something that’s really quite sensitive,” says director Sasha. “Even now we don’t have any examples of professional footballers at the highest level who are open about their sexuality.”

“We’re telling a story about those in high profile arenas who to this day still aren’t able to express their true identity for fear of not being accepted,” adds writer Alex. “They’ve exchanged their freedom for acceptance. That’s something that I don’t think any film has done properly.”

The opening shot shows a dressing-room full of half-naked men, thrusting the audience straight into the central tension of Play The Game; being gay and not being able to tell anyone. While this story takes place in 30 years ago, it addresses a theme which remains something of a taboo today.

The short, which could go on to become a TV series, tells the story of fictional footballer Johnny Cassells, the only black player on the team of a major football club. Johnny not only faces the much more widespread racism of British football in the ‘80s, but also harbours a secret which could ruin his career: he’s gay.

Top Boy
Malcolm Kamulete (left), here in Channel 4 drama Top Boy, is to star in Play The Game

Johnny is from Brixton and has a troubled background with a brother Sylvester in prison. This central character will be played by 18-year-old Malcolm Kamulete, now famous for his role as Ra’Nell in Channel 4’s hit show Top Boy. Malcolm, whose own brother is in prison, is perfect for this role, say Alexander and Sasha.

“I always try and use real people in real situations to convey a sense of authenticity,” says Sasha. “We didn’t want thespy actors […] when [Malcolm] got the part in Top Boy he’d never been in front of a camera before but he has an authentic, natural quality.”

The plot of the planned TV series will follow Johnny as he leaves Brixton to play for a big club in Sheffield, where the team’s weatherbeaten manager Frank is the first to guess his secret. He eventually returns to his home town but gets caught up in the 1981 Brixton Riots which will feature heavily as a climactic scene.

Alex suggests that the ‘81 riots haven’t yet been depicted on screen in a convincing way. He’s spent the last few months pacing Railton Road, working out how to script the events of 30 years ago. “We’re telling a story about Brixton that we don’t think has been done justice,” he says when I ask why Brixtoners should support this project.

“[Brixton of the 1980s] embodies that era of Thatcher’s England” adds Alex, explaining that the locations of Brixton and Sheffield help establish the wider context of an England undergoing huge cultural changes. These changes eventually redefined people’s attitudes towards sexuality and race – but unfortunately we still struggle to get it right today, as Play The Game should serve to remind us.

Play The Game needs to raise £7,500 on Kickstarter by 14 June – just head to Kickstarter to support it. Perks available for supporters include a signed script or the chance to appear as an extra.