Henriques, Julian 1955(?)–
Julian Henriques 1955(?)–
Julian Henriques made his feature–film directorial debut with the 1998 musical, Baby–mother. Co–written with Vivi–enne Howard, Babymother depicts London’s vibrant West Indian nightclub culture. Its performers long to move from the club scene into a legitimate recording career, an ambition their more conservative parents disdain. The film’s title refers to this younger generation of Anglo–Caribbeans, who become parents themselves when barely out of their teens. Henriques’s work was released in North American theaters in the spring of 2000. “This film is wired directly into the motor of assertive energy which is powering so–called multicultural Britain, to whose rhythm London is increasingly swinging,” wrote Stuart Hall in Sight and Sound.
Henriques was born in Yorkshire, England, and studied psychology at Bristol University. His career has included stints as a television researcher, policy researcher, lecturer, and journalist. In the 1970s he became a co–founder of Ideology and Consciousness (later shortened to I and C), a journal that published work on new theories in modern psychology. Henriques remained a member of its editorial staff from 1974 to 1977. His own academic writings have appeared in his book Changing the Subject: Psychology, Social Regulation and Control and he has also contributioned to other academic works including Fatherhood and Journey to ‘Dis’ Place in Being West Indian. He has taught at the University of the West Indies in Mona, Jamaica, and as a lecturer in script and prose–writing at Goldsmiths College of the University of London.
Henriques began making short films for Britain’s Channel Four Television in the 1980s. He produced On Duty in 1984, and directed Exit No Exit in 1988. We the Ragamuffin, produced in 1992, was his first narrative short film. The work depicted the North Peckham housing projects outside of London, home to many Britons of West Indian heritage. When the apartment blocks first went up in the 1970s, they won international architectural acclaim for their network of walkways and corridors. North Peckham, however, failed to stand even a brief test of time, and rapidly deteriorated into a crumbling, crime–ridden maze. Henriques’s film examines the “Ragamuffin” urban subculture in the area, with its distinct clothing style and ties to Rastafarian ideology.
At a Glance…
B orn ca. 1955, in Yorkshire, England. Education: Studied psychology at Bristol University.
Career: Television researcher, policy researcher, lecturer, and journalist; co–founder of the journal Ideology and Consciousness, 1974, and member of editorial collective until 1977; author of Changing the Subject: Psychology, Social Regulation and Control; contributing author to Fatherhood and Journey to ’Dis’ Place in Being West Indian; taught at University of West Indies; Goldsmiths College, University of London, lecturer in script and prosewriting, 1980s; filmmaker since mid–1980s, with documentary shorts and television films for Channel Four Television, the British Broadcasting Service (BBC), and Zweites Deutsches Fernsehen (ZDF), films include Exit No Exit, States of Exile, Derek Wlcott: Poet of the Island, Jungle Mix, The Sex Warriors & the Samuri, The Green Man, and We the Ragamuffin; directorial feature–film debut with Baby–mother, 1998.
Address; Office —Department of Media and Communications, Goldsmiths College, University of London, New Cross, London, SE14 6NW, England.
Other films that Henriques has made—either for the British Broadcasting Service (BBC) or Germany’s Zweites Deutsches Fernsehen (ZDF) network—include States of Exile, Derek Walcott: Poet of the Island, Jungle Mix, The Sex Warrior & the Samurai, and The Green Man.
Babymother, financed by Britain’s Channel Four network and by British lottery receipts, was filmed with an all–black cast and set in north London’s Harlesden neighborhood. The area is home to large numbers of first–and second–generation Jamaicans, and boasts a thriving nightclub scene, out of which has emerged the United Kingdom’s “dance hall” genre, which is an offshoot of reggae. Cineaste writer Rachel Moseley–Wood explained, “The primacy accorded the dance hall is a declaration about the ongoing transformation and redefinition of a culturally monolithic England into a diverse multicultural society.”
Working with Howard on the script, Henriques hoped to honestly depict the struggles of women performers in this subculture. As he told Black Filmmaker’s Menelik Shabazz, he had met some of these singers, and quickly grasped “what they had to deal with in terms of the music, and their responsibilities, and their relationships with their family and relationship within the music industry and the people who control it.” Babymother’s story follows Anita, played by Anjela Lauren Smith, who forms her own two–woman crew to back her in club performances. She enjoys a stellar rise in the clubs, but faces personal challenges to further success: she is a teen mother with two youngsters, and lives with her mother and older sister Rose (played by Suzette Llewellyn), who both disapprove of her musical ambitions.
The father of Anita’s children is also a singer, Byron (played by Wil Johnson), and the pair have had a somewhat tempestuous relationship. Because of his own singing career, Byron has not been an involved parent, but experiences a change of heart while watching Anita’s rise. He suggests that they move in together, but Anita refuses to jettison her own career plans. In Babymother’s finale, both participate in a local talent contest and battle it out onstage.
One of the crucial plot elements in Henriques’s film comes when Anita’s “mother” dies, and she learns that she was really her grandmother—that her “sister” Rose was a teen “babymother” as well. The movie earned positive reviews both in Britain and the United States. Independent Sunday writer Matthew Sweet faulted it for its portrayal of single parenthood, writing that the children seemed incidental in the film, but granted that Henriques “has used his film to achieve an interesting synthesis of genres, combining grimy social realism with a distinctly Jamaican strain of melodrama.” Writing in Cineaste, Moseley–Wood pointed out that while the film’s ensemble characters are the children and grandchildren of West Indian immigrants to England from the post–World War II era and “consider themselves British and belonging to Britain,” it is a setting “totally redefined using Jamaican popular culture.”
Henriques was commended for using the dance hall culture as a starting point of reference to explore his themes of assimilation and multiculturalism. New York Times film critic Stephen Holden found that the music was a primary focus in Babymother, which resulted in “a candy–colored, beat–driven show–business fantasy.” He also noted that the script seemed to have the bare minimum of plot, which “surrenders giddily to song, dance and merriment. Since its idiom is the percolating postreggae style known as Jamaican dancehall, the movie’s good mood isn’t simply upbeat, it’s voluptuously ecstatic.” An Independent critic, Ryan Gilbey, called Babymother “vibrant and delightful,” and a film that “buzzes with vitality and colour.” Bob Campbell, writing in the New Jersey Star–Ledger, also liked Henriques’s “cheery urban fable. Its gritty–pretty strengths are summed up in rude male–female challenge songs that crackle with loving hostility.”
In the end, wrote Hall in Sight and Sound, Baby–mother was noteworthy in one aspect: “New British cinema has not so far produced a successful film of any quality based on the music industry.... This is where black British youth culture—stylish, self–confident, as–pirational, entrepreneurial and replete with attitude—has been making its indelible mark on British popular culture, transforming street fashion, dance and sexuality–as–public–spectacle in its wake.”
Exit No Exit, Channel Four, 1988.
States of Exile, British Broadcasting Company.
The Green Man, British Broadcasting Company.
We the Ragamuffin, Channel Four, 1992.
Babymother, Channel Four, 1998.
Changing the Subject: Psychology, Social Regulation and Control, Methuen, 1984.
Contributor to academic works, including Fatherhood, Virago, 1992; and Journey to ’Dis’ Place in Being West Indian (in press), UWI Press.
Black Filmmaker, February/March 1998.
Independent (London), September 10, 1998, p. 11; September 17, 1998, p. 25.
Independent Sunday (London), September 13, 1998, p. 4.
New York Times, March 17, 2000.
Observer (London), September 13, 1998, p. 8.
Sight and Sound, September 1998, p. 24, p. 38.
Star–Ledger (Newark, NJ), March 17, 2000, p. 39.
Black Filmmaker Magazine, http://www.blackfilmmakermag.com/ (September 5, 2002).
Goldsmiths College Dept. of Media & Communications, http://www.goldsmiths.ac.uk/departments/media-communications/ (September 5, 2002).
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