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Watch an intimate short film exploring Black British girlhood

Dubheasa Lanipekun’s Blue Corridor 15 is a sensitive portrait of South London sisterhood that touches on themes of beauty, race, and gender politics

In Blue Corridor 15, a short film by emerging director Dubheasa Lanipekun, the protagonist Elizabeth (Thalia Gambe) braids her classmates’ hair at break time, as a means to earn money after her family falls on hard times. Tension begins to emerge as her friend Nana (Mariam Bangura) enters the classroom. What starts off as light-hearted playground chatter quickly transforms into a heated discussion about beauty, gender, and race.

“The film is about finding the words and space to engage in the complex nuances of other people’s lives, especially if they don’t share the same lived experiences as you,” says Lanipekun. Set in South London, the five-minute short draws inspiration from the filmmaker’s own experience growing up in the city. She casts a compassionate lens on her characters, using the context of girlhood to explore themes of adolescent vulnerability and Black female friendship.

“The work reconsiders the figure of alienated working class youth to explore the different facets of ‘coming of age’ for young women living in South London,” she explains. “With this film, I’m in direct conversation with others who talk about the tensions within the solidarity of Black womanhood. I use hair, a very significant touchstone and marker of identity, to explore how we often bury the needs of others.”

Realised as part of New Creatives, supported by Arts Council England and BBC Arts, and in collaboration with ICA and Dazed, Blue Corridor 15 presents teen friendship in all its messy, and sometimes volatile, glory. Below, Lanipekun discusses directing her debut short over lockdown, drawing on personal experiences, and the joy of Black sisterhood.

What inspired the making of Blue Corridor 15?

Dubheasa Lanipekun: St. Martins in the Field High School for Girls in Tulse Hill from 2007-2012. The nickname for our school was sluts in the field. I’m not sure why it’s relevant to say that exactly but I know it is. Probably because it speaks to my gender politics awakening, and slowly understanding the realities of a politicised Black British girlhood in a school where it was 90 per cent Black British, Carribean, West African, or mixed Black.

What was the process like from getting your idea commissioned and produced? What difficulties did you face?

Dubheasa Lanipekun: Lots of difficulties! I mean we shot on 16mm during the UK’s second lockdown. I truly have to thank everyone who helped to make the film possible. Especially my producers Tobi Kyeremateng and Ias Balaskas and executive producer Bec Evans. Their time, energy, passion, and care is what made the experience so fulfilling. I’ve been thinking a lot about the ethics of short filmmaking. It is a passion project, but it’s also a job, so you want to be as professional and caring as possible towards those who are helping you realise what is in your head. I know there are barriers to access which makes trying to have a career in this industry harder for certain people. Asking for things for free or at a reduced rate is really hard, especially for women, you don’t want to be seen as a bitch or entitled. You really have to hustle for every croc clip and c-stand. So much of your energy is used up trying to pull everything together. I’m someone who has benefited from these funding pots so you don’t want to shoot them down too much. But I am worried about the future of entry level and emerging schemes as longer lead times and more restricted shooting means it is that much harder for those with less experience or access to break in. 

To have the first film you direct premier on TV was a pretty cool moment. Even though in the end I actually just had to just watch it live on my little HP laptop as my parents were watching it on the TV, and I was trying to keep away from them because of the pandemic. I think that’s probably how Nolan felt seeing the meme of people watching Tenet on a Game Boy.

“I aimed to show a sensitive and intimate portrait of South London girlhood, and how beauty culture as well as race and gender politics get discussed in chaotic adolescence” – Dubheasa Lanipekun

Why was it important to you to focus on girlhood, and specifically, Black girlhood?

Dubheasa Lanipekun: The film is an ode to this Black schoolgirl sisterhood. I aimed to show a sensitive and intimate portrait of South London girlhood, and how beauty culture as well as race and gender politics get discussed in chaotic adolescence. I actually wrote the first draft when I was 15 as part of a full-length play, so there are echoes of my younger self in there. Lola Olufemi’s book Feminism, Interrupted was a huge inspiration for me to come back to the story and interrogate solidarity as a concept and what that means for these young friends at this time in their life. The cast, Nevaeh West-Lawson, Mariam Bangura, and Thalia Gambe, were amazing at bringing everything to it and they really were a pleasure to work with. 

What are your personal experiences of growing up in south London? Are there any similarities on screen? 

Dubheasa Lanipekun: I am particularly attracted to stories that explore the social truth within drama, and I wanted the voices heard to reflect that truth. I tried to root it as much as possible in my own experiences as a schoolgirl. When you see youth protest movements from the young people at Pimlico Academy to everyone involved in Everyone’s Invited. It really highlights a political awareness and willingness to carry on the tradition of protest and societal engagement. My parents run a community centre and are passionate about community building and access to the arts. Their work to combat different social disadvantages people may be facing has been a huge influence on me and the philosophy which underpins my work.

Are there any directors or visual artists that inspire your work? 

Dubheasa Lanipekun: My influences were: seven methods of killing kylie jenner by Jasmine Lee-Jones, Love by Alexander Zeldin, Chewing Gum Dreams by Michaela Coel, Divines by Uda Benyamina, Girlhood by Céline Sciamma, Fish Tank by Andrea Arnold, Hair Wolf by Mariama Diallo, Raw by Julia Ducournau, I, Daniel Blake by Ken Loach, Atlantics by Mati Diop, Home by Nadia Fall, Pagans by Lucy Luscombe, Half Breed by Natasha Marshall, Signs by Yero Timi-Biu, The Florida Project by Sean Baker, Little Soldier by Stella Corradi, A girl walks home alone at night by Ana Lily Amirpour, Attack the Block by Joe Cornish, We Are Who We Are by Luca Guadagnino, Rocks by Sarah Gavron, Precious by Lee Daniels, Kidulthood by Noel Clarke (I know, but it was, just kill the author), Brick by Rian Johnson, Kids by Larry Clark, and Tin Luck by Beatrix Blaise.

In the film, there’s a conflict between being Black and mixed race. Why was it important to highlight this? 

Dubheasa Lanipekun: I think when you tell stories like this, namly about colourism, the relationship between light-skinned mixed and dark-skinned Black girls, belonging, friendship, and accountability, you are aware of yourself as the filmmaker. In visual media, who shoots you and writes your dialogue matters. Also, what the different storytelling components mean in a wider social context and within established discussions of cultural identity and cinematic representation. How this informs character and heightens conflict within the story. For me, I think it is important to love and respect the people you are photographing. Care about them as humans, or the humans they represent as characters.

Where do you pull inspiration from when coming up with storylines and characters?

Dubheasa Lanipekun: I do little plays in my room and act out all the different characters. Everyone I play is somehow Italian-American, I think that is the universe telling me to do a mob story. 

What do you want viewers to take away from Blue Corridor 15

Dubheasa Lanipekun: I want people to think, “Wow, cool film, we should give her more money to make another one”.