Yardie: Idris Elba about his Directing Debut, New Kind of Gangster Film

Yardie, which premiered Saturday in the 2018 Sundance Film Fest world cinema dramatic competition, is dramatic coming-of-age period piece that starts with young Jamaican boy witnessing his brother get killed. A decade later, he’s the right-hand man to a gang leader, and after a mission goes wrong, he decides to find his brother’s killer.

Announcing the directing debut of the esteemed actor, Yardie is based on the cult novel by Victor Headley.  The cast includes Aml Ameen, Shantol Jackson, Sheldon Shepherd and Everaldo Creary.

Making Movie about Yardie

Idris Elba: My biggest fear was, I took a film that was really about Jamaican culture, which is celebrated by the music, by some of the celebrities.  Not being Jamaican myself, I tried to open the lens, the window on a culture that is known and try to deepen the viewer’s perception of that culture. ”Yardie” is a young man that is struggling with trauma, loses his brother at a young age. Yardie is a derogatory term for a man from Jamaica. That’s what they call them in England.  Scotland Yard, right, the police said this is Yardie gang culture. Yardie gang culture is not like a compliment and so the book’s called Yardie so we called it “Yardie” because it’s a slight red herring for an audience that know what that mean because when you see the film it’s actually about trauma development and management.  It’s about how a young man deals with the fact that his brother died and how he turns, he gets on, you know, all these lanes that he finds himself on while dealing with the trauma encased with Jamaican culture.  The reggae, the music, the violence that comes with that, demonstrative of opinions and actions, that this is what a Yardie is, you know, and it’s a delicate film.

Changing Perceptions and Images of Black Men

IE: I want to change the way that black characters are portrayed in films, even in gangster films.  We tend to go for the violence. We tend to go for the most traumatic part. Of course, these films can be compelling but they paint a bleak picture. The opportunity here was to try and make something different.  It is a gangster film, there is a gangster character in it, but this is an opportunity to put a different lens on Jamaica and Jamaican culture.  The movie humanizes the experience of black people doing nefarious activities, and Jamaicans specifically. It’s very rewarding to see that.

Test Screening in UK

IE: When I did my first screening, I did it to a UK audience, in Angel Theatre.  The UK is a lot more in sync with Jamaican culture because it has a deep history and half the audience were Europeans, English, 25% were other and 25% were Jamaican or Caribbean.  The men in the audience were like from the title “Yardie.” I thought this is going to be a lot more gangsta.  I’m talking about the analysis we got from the test screening.  They thought it was going to be a lot more gangsta and it isn’t. There’s a love story at the heart of it.  It’s about a guy dealing with his emotions.