Gangland: Channel 5’s Two-Part Documentary That Failed To Impress

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Featuring London gang interviews and clips, Channel 5’s two-part series, Gangland provided an ‘insight’ into the harsh life some youngsters face every day.

Producers did ‘dead-drops’ of GoPro cameras , allowing gangsters to film their illicit activities.

In the first episode,  dubbed ‘Turf Wars’,  we had the pleasure (not) of meeting Jordy, a former Woolwich Boyz gang member. Jordy boasted of 5 star excursions to Spain and girls queuing at parties to get a glance of the Escobar wannabe. His attire was designer from head to toe on a daily basis, he claimed.

As we soon found out, European flights weren’t the only trips Jordy took regularly. The reformed character described his spot in Hampshire where he sold drugs out of the capital city and out of the Metropolitan Police’s eye. Highlighting his path to success, the Woolwich boy vividly described every element of his lifestyle to millions of viewers. Some members of the public realised the term ‘plugging’ didn’t just apply to road pothole solutions.

In less than an hour, Jordy and others who featured in the programme left no secret untold surrounding gang life – drugs, guns and knives were clearly displayed.

No one appeared to be camera-shy. A group of young adults in South London gathered on a platform to showcase their alarming arsenal of firearms. One unidentified male brandished guns he nicknamed ‘Street Sweeper’ and ‘Ugly Betty’. Those that surrounded him laughed at his chilling humour.

Quincy, who was shortly arrested after being part of the documentary told us about his lifestyle when he was part of the Brixton 28s. Reminiscing about one shootout, Quincy described letting off a Uzi in broad daylight aiming for the opposition. Unarmed police were also shot at with the Uzi sub-machine gun as the gang fled from outside a Croydon nightclub where a man had been shot. Quincy, like Jordy told viewers the gang culture always ends in tears. Quincy turned to smoking crack due to the stress while Jordy began a custodial sentence at the start of episode 2. Now clean, Quincy aims to help his local community and push youth towards positive causes.

It soon became clear parts of the documentary are falsified or sensationalised for entertainment purposes. Some of those featured loving their moment of fame began to exaggerate or create stories out of thin air. ‘Bonnie’ and ‘Clyde’ had a lot to say but little to show. They were fascinated by the buzz of the culture rather than the cause. Money was merely a part of their final goal – it was obvious they were desperate to be respected and admired.

Secondly, the director made a poor choice in choosing those who featured in the two-part series. There are an estimated 225 recognised gangs in London, comprising of around 3,600 gang members. Fiftyeight gangs are considered particularly active – accounting for two thirds of offences where a named gang has been identified as being involved. This show aimed to represent a wide variety of gangs and groups in London. I refuse to believe ALL members of these 225 gangs are members of an ethnic minority.

Award winning writer Danielle Dash shared a similar viewpoint on her internet blog:

‘this stereotype of “scary” black men in hoodies committing crime can easily become instilled in the minds of the white majority in the UK and lead to the idea that all black people somehow are these one dimensional people who exist solely in this violent space.’

The fact that the producer of the show (Paul Blake) failed to recognise the flaws in his creation disgusts me. Why will Mr Blake never create a programme representing minorities that succeed in spite of their limited choices? Two words: viewing figures.

Blake said when speaking to The Guardian ‘this documentary was born from the fact that I am a black man, born in this country, and I was just pissed off that no one cared about these young black kids who are dying, they didn’t care about the loss experienced by their families. Yet it could happen to me, it could happen to one of my friend’s kids. It deeply upset me that this was going on for years but these kids just became faceless, just another nib in the Evening Standard.’

While Blake’s intentions may have been in the right place, I think an approach where a variety of races and people of different cultures are presented is necessary. Gang violence in the UK doesn’t apply to just one ethnic group in society.

Blake first learned about ‘plugging’ from Jordy, a former member of the Woolwich Boys street gang who, at the height of his activity earn over £2000 a day. Blake was not capable of creating a show about gang culture – he knew too little of it. The ideal producer of such a show should be a reformed gang member who has actually experienced these issues.

The second episode attempted to offer some sort of closure. This instalment presented the consequences of London’s gang culture. Tragically, young Myron Yarde filmed for the show months before his death and we see him enjoying time with his friends filming a music video. Myron wanted something more than his estate in South London.

The final episode was an improvement from the last with a heavy focus on the outcomes of this cruel, unforgiving culture. A tribute at the end shows Showkey, a friend of Myron who was recently stabbed to death in Peckham.

What are your thoughts on the documentary? Feel free to have your say.