Ben Drew talks ‘Ill Manors’

A scene from Ill Manors.

Ill Manors is a deeply affecting drama set in London’s notorious council flats in London’s East End. Musician and filmmaker Ben “Plan B” Drew grew up in Forest Gate but managed to climb out of it to become a rapper, actor and producer. Forest Gate stayed with him and he returned to make Ill Manors, a highly personal crime drama set in the estate, in order to understand it better and show the reality of life there. The film follows eight characters whose lives intertwine in desperate ways. Drew knows what he’s talking about. The events that unfold over the course of the film are familiar to him, the violence, gangs and drugs. The spectre of death is around every corner. In a way it’s a modern morality tale and warning. We spoke with Drew in Toronto.

Ill Manors is shocking to the uninitiated. It recalls life in the slums of New York decades ago before they were cleaned up.

Ben Drew: It’s life in East London, which is where they had the Olympics. Crime has been a problem for thirty years in our country and the reason we’ve never done anything is because of money and yet they can justify the amount of money they spent on the Olympics. Other than that, people were excited to have the Olympics in East London. There wasn’t enough to include local people of the area.

So, you made Ill Manors as a political statement?

BD: No. It’s about classism. I wouldn’t say it’s an aspect of the film but the whole point of the film is to give people who lived in that environment a better understanding of it and why we read about certain crimes that happen.

Most films set in council estates show this life of crime. Did you want to make the film to send a message?

BD: I’m more interested to know if we are born bad. No. We are put in our environment and if something happens to us as a child, something that someone breaks inside of us, we spend the rest of our lives trying to fix it. We make mistakes. If you’re dealing drugs or you take another person’s life you find yourself in prison… isn’t that because someone’s made you that way? They’ve made you think in that way and the environment you live in? The more we understand that then we don’t have to demonize these kids. They just need help, therapy, something, a parental figure in their life that a lot of these kids don’t have. They don’t have anyone looking out for them, or any love or anyone telling them that they’re worth something. Believe that they’re not worth anything and act accordingly. That’s what I tried to do in the film.

Each character has a problem with violence, money or drugs. How do they go off track?

BD: Here’s this big scary drug dealer. How did he get to this point, what created him? The first segment, when we go into the basement and through the decades from when he was young to now. That’s me trying to show what creates these people. If there is more awareness of why these guys are the way they are, then it means maybe there’s no hope for them or they’re too far gone, if we recognize that that’s the problem we could spend more money and time recognizing those younger generators are going to end up that way and put as much energy into making changes and making that happen by intervening at a younger age.

What’s the solution?

BD: Taking them out of comprehensive school, and putting them in a special needs school equipped for children like that. The amount of money on the Olympics; couldn’t we put more into centres like that? Taking kids out of comp school who are connected to gun culture with their family. It’s not hard to do that. Every time one of their brothers or cousins gets arrested they have to go find out who their siblings are. Or if anyone is killed, anyone associated with gang related crime, it’s not hard to find out if they have younger brothers and sisters probably most likely going to end up the same way.

It sounds hopeless.

BD: They should take the kids out of comprehensive school and send them to an alternative school. I went to a special unit. I was taken out of regular school and it helped me a lot. I know these schools work. As a society we all have to start the same way so we can outnumber them and outvote them, and say this is what we want. I’m gonna do it and the best way to do it on a larger scale is in music and films.

Ill Manors opens in Toronto June 21. Check out the trailer below.

Anne Brodie

About Anne Brodie

Anne Brodie is a freelance film reporter and critic.