Writers: Ed Accura and Mysterex
After the tragic death of Folajimi Olubunmi-Adewole, the young man who jumped off London Bridge last month to save a woman drowning in the Thames, the title of this film feels somewhat inappropriate. It is the threat of the Thames, however, that inspired writer and rapper Ed Acurra to make this film (and its prequel). When he moved to a house near the river, he worried that his daughter might one day get into trouble in the water. At the age of 53 he learnt to swim.
Accura and Mysterex’s film, like the first in this series, examines why black people are so averse to water. That black people can’t swim may be rooted in stereotypes, but when looking at the figures it’s easy to see why such stereotypes exist. 95% of black people in England can’t swim and Mysterex investigates the reasons why in two ways. The first way is through interviews, and is the more successful. Young people of colour candidly discuss why they are reluctant to take up swimming as a sport. Some contributors – both male and female – talk about not wanting to get their hair wet, especially if they have braids, which the water would ruin. Also the salt of the sea and the chlorine of the pools can dry out black skins in ways that they don’t do with most white skins.
But the reasons extend beyond the cosmetic. Some interviewees explain that unlike football, swimming isn’t cool and that it needs a black hero like athletics’ Usain Bolt to encourage young people to take up the sport. Others suggest that swimming should be more firmly embedded in school curricula, and that its importance is underrated. Playing football never saved anybody’s life, but swimming…
Mysterex’s second approach is less effective. Running alongside the interviews is, presumably, a fictional story about two teenagers, Layla and K-Frost, who are struggling to get back in the water, even though they say they can swim. Accura plays Frank (who appears in the first film too), a mentor who is brought in to assist the teenagers. This has promise, especially as Layla and K-Frost keep secrets, not just from Frank, but their friends too. However, often the drama is awkwardly acted, and it’s presented like scripted reality with the performers given scenarios to act out rather than lines to deliver. It’s an interesting way to work, but scenes are long and repetitive, and the way that Layla and K-Frost are lured back to the water seems too simplistic.
This film has plenty of fascinating ideas, and the interviews are where these ideas are best presented, with all the interviewees relaxed in front of the camera. If only Accura and Mysterex had stuck to the interviews, or at least had found a different way to frame their drama, then Blacks Can’t Swim: The Sequel, may have been compulsory viewing.
Available on Digital Download from 10 May 2021