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Contributor: George Amponsah

The first surprise delivered by the film Babymother, the ?reggae musical?, is that in the opening scenes it really does conform 100% to the conventions of the musical genre (think Sound of Music or West Side Story) where characters burst into song mid-conversation. A Reggae musical set in Harlesden, London?s centre of Jamaican dancehall culture?
The second surprise is that having begun with such a fresh and exciting premise, the film should resort to ?kitchen sink? style dramatic realism. Although the result is an awkward hybrid of the two genres - evidence of a movie which can?t make up its mind - there are nonetheless many attractive qualities about the film.
The dancehall scenes are very good - with spectacular choreography throughout; particularly in the closing numbers which deliver the film?s central message ?Babymother be a mother to your child?, thereby casting aside the negative associations of the term Babymother and offering an empowering mantra to young working class black mothers.
In general, the performances from the cast are strong: Anjela Lauren Smith is convincing as the Babymother of the title and her two female sidekicks and musical collaborators are well played by Caroline Chikezie and Jocelyn Esien.
Essentially Babymother is a film about solidarity among black women in the macho world of reggae. The contradictions are shown too. By juxtaposing the aggressive independence of the babymothers with their perceived dependence on the men, the complex state of play in the gender war is suggested. There is also a scene stealing performance from Vas Blackwood (Lenny Henry Show fame) who as Caesar - a Harlesden music promoter - switches effortlessly from comical Don Dada style mannerisms to reptilian nastiness as a sexual predator in the dancehall jungle.
The film is more problematic in the domestic ?kitchen sink? scenes where the narrative story-line such as the protagonist?s discovery that her ?elder sister? is in fact her mother and the untimely death of the woman she thought was her mother is cluttered. Basically it is difficult to really care for the characters because they are too thinly sketched and the undermotivated narrative just seems to be a way of linking the much more successful music sequences. Ironically, I suspect that if Director Julian Henriques had stuck to his guns with the musical genre then the film?s limitations as a narrative drama wouldn?t have mattered so much.
A more successful element of the narrative is in the contrast between Anita?s two lives - as a glamorous diva on the dancehall scene with all the vibrant colour, sound and raw sexuality that this brings and as a single mother struggling to bring up her children amidst the grim squalor of a run-down Harlesden council estate.
Baby mother seems to be unsure of what type of film it wants to be and this may be a result of attempting to make a realistic drama about Black British life and a Reggae dancehall extravaganza all in the same movie. Perhaps this is a reflection of the pressure on black film makers to make a film that will be all things to all black people because so few of these films are ever made. Or there is the possibility that, as often seems to be the case with Black British feature films, the sustained effort required to put something on screen at all and to secure cinematic distribution becomes of itself more important than the story being told.
Nonetheless, for all its flaws, Babymother achieves a true-enough representation of a fragment of Diaspora culture and on leaving the theatre I looked forward to seeing the next Black British film to deal with another story from the Diaspora. unlike certain other Black British film attempts of the recent past Babymother smells like progress: it functions both as a ?slice of life? polemic and as entertaining cinema into the bargain. Perhaps its most significant triumph is that it presents an image of Cool Britannia that I suspect Mr Blair has little idea of. After all what is it that makes Britain so cool in the late 90s if not the indelible imprint of black music culture? Far removed from the image of a bunch of ugly blokes stripping off at a Sheffield discotheque to the sounds of Hot Chocolate, Babymother represents the sleek, sexual and aggressively stylised face of swinging black London as hardly seen on cinema screens.
At the same time that the film says so much about a new multi-cultural Britain it also speaks volumes about the segregation of people in this country. Throughout Babymother not one single significant white character makes an appearance. Rather than make a big song and dance about the black experience of a white racist system in this movie black experience is the song and dance. White society is simply left out of the picture, which by itself makes Babymother something of an original.
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