Attack the Block surprised the heck out of me.
My husband said “hey, do you want to go see this, it’s kind of like Battle Los Angeles mixed with Shaun of the Dead.” Since I liked both of those films, I agreed to go. However, I made sure we set it up for the theater that serves dinner. I only see films there that I don’t think I’m going to be super engrossed by, because it hurts my suspension of disbelief to have the wait staff interrupting the movie to ask if I want a refill.
Luckily for me, suspension of disbelief wasn’t a crucial element to enjoying this film, but I was absolutely engrossed by it. I had hoped for a smidge of Heroine Content from seeing a woman with a baseball bat in the preview, but I got so much more.
Attack the Block tells the story of one night in a low-income neighborhood in London, centered around one particular housing project known as the Block. A group of young men who live there, mostly young men of color, encounter an alien. The charismatic leader of the group, John Boyega’s Moses, kills it. Unfortunately, it’s not the only one.
Earlier in the evening, the group had mugged Sam (Jodie Whitttaker), a mid-20’s (?) white woman who works as a nurse and who also lives in the Block. As more aliens show up and converge on the Block, she falls in with Moses’s group, figuring it’s her best chance for survival.
I highly recommend you read these three pieces on Attack the Block, all published on Racialicious:
- Streets Afire: The Racialicious Review of Attack The Block by Emma Felber
- All In The Same Gang: Examining Attack The Block’s Approach To Race by Kartina Richardson, cross-posted from Mirror: Motion Picture Commentary
- Attack the Block Proves You Don’t Have to be Epic to Be a Hero by Latoya Peterson
I didn’t want to write about this movie until I had a chance to read them, because I was worried Attack the Block might be too good to be true. That I missed something crucial, and this wasn’t really a kick-ass movie where a multi-racial group of youth and a white woman take on alien invaders and win. Felber’s, Richardson’s, and Peterson’s pieces, and the folks commenting on them who had seen the film, reassured me that, yes, it was okay to love this movie. (I’m happy to read negative commentary on it, too, as soon as I find some.)
Here’s what I liked about it, specifically:
The young men of color are humanized as they become Earth’s protectors. It turns out their survival skills from growing up in a violent setting make them pretty damn qualified to defend their neighborhood. But they’re not just turned into a pack of soldiers or attack dogs. They’re kids. And they’re each their own kid. We see them as “muggers” first, but we stay with them throughout the film and get to know them as people.
Moses, the leader of the group, is strong, and afraid, and self-centered, and a leader, and responsible, and thoughtless – just like most high school students. And adults. He grows up quite a bit during the film, but on his own. Not because he’s being bludgeoned over the head by an after-school special. I would watch Boyega in just about anything at this point, too, because he did an amazing job in this role.
The white woman, Sam, grows from “eek!” screamer to valuable team member. I thought she had a lot of backbone while she was being mugged, but the arrival of aliens did throw her for a loop. She pretty quickly figures out who the right people are to stick with, though, and sets about making herself useful in the group. She’s a nurse, so that’s good, and she’s also willing to stab aliens. Go Sam!
When there’s a reveal about Moses’s background, it’s not overdone. He doesn’t get a free pass for mugging Sam and a vale of tears about how much he’s suffered, making him into a victim/symbol rather than a person. His past puts his actions into context, though, and Sam is able to finally return his apology with understanding and appreciation for his attempt to grow.
The film contains lots of commentary on class and race, but it’s not preachy. We saw it with friends who are good people but don’t have a burning interest in class and race issues, and they had a good time too. I love putting a little social justice messaging in front of people who aren’t already thinking about those topics as a personal development project.
The only thing I wished was different was that the young women of color play only supporting roles. They are super and competent, but couldn’t any of them have gotten involved in the action beyond one scene? Sam’s involvement was crucial to some of the story the filmmakers were trying to tell, and I wouldn’t have had her replaced, but the story was big enough to accommodate a little more screen time for young women. Or there can be a sequel where it’s their turn, I’m not picky.
Four stars. The DVD would make a good holiday gift, y’all. Just sayin’.
This post was originally published on Heroine Content, a feminist and anti-racist movie blog that ran from July 2006 to May 2012.