Reggie Yates: ‘We seldom see Black British coming-of-age stories’

Reggie Yates: “We rarely see coming-of-age stories of black Britons”

How a love of cars, London and the British garage informed the writer / director’s insane feature debut, Pirates.

A the near-ubiquitous presence on British television has finally spread to the big screen for Reggie Yates, who makes his writer and director debut with the fun and entertaining comedy Pirates, about three London friends in search of the ultimate pinnacle from the year 2000.

LWLies: What inspired you to make a feature film and how was the process different for the things you did for TV?

Yates: I’ve been in film and television for over 30 years now and always wanted to direct. For a very long time, I never really thought that the stories I wanted to tell had any value. I was constantly told that they would not find an audience. Fortunately, I started to have a certain level of self-confidence and encouragement about 15 years ago and through that I started making short films. As my short films got bigger and more and more advice and guidance, I got to the point of making this feature film.

When I was a kid I started in a local theater group called Anna Scher Theater. They encouraged us to write plays, edit them, and direct our other classmates as actors, and I started doing it from around the age of 11, so I I’ve always been involved in it, never really recognized the power I had in the stories I wanted to tell.

Much of the film is inspired by your youth. Is there one main personal aspect that you relied on to build the story?

More than anything, friendship. This friendship between me and my teenage boys was really important. I think everyone knows how important, special and unique these teenage friendships are. Whether they last a lifetime or not, you’re super malleable as a teenager, and that fraternity, or that fraternity, or whatever you go through between your group of friends, can help define that moment. It certainly did for me. We’ve also seen a Million and One Coming of Age stories from the American perspective, but we very rarely see it from the British perspective, let alone the British black perspective. One of the things I’m incredibly proud of about this movie is that it’s about a version of British black youth that we don’t see very often, and especially the joy of that.

What is your relationship with UK Garage, to which this film is sort of a tribute?

I grew up in North London and moved to South London when I was 14. When I was 16 or 17, I managed to get on Freek FM, which was my favorite radio station. My little team and I did a demo, and we ended up on this pirate radio station, and we were on the same stations as our heroes. Dreem Teem was from Freek, EZ was from Freek, Heartless Crew was from Freek. They were all people we admired and wanted to be like, so it was a huge moment for me. I still have a huge collection of tapes that I recorded from all these North London radio stations. When I moved to South London I was suddenly able to pick up a whole new wave of stations, DJs and MCs like Delight FM and So Solid Crew.

There was a huge car culture among young people in the 90s and music went hand in hand with the broadcast of mixtapes.

Of course, that’s why the car is such an important part of the movie. It’s almost as if the car, the “Custard Cream”, is part of the gang. I think for anyone who grew up in a big city with few places to go you will know the importance of that first friend who gets their license, I described it as a little clubhouse on wheels. Those trips in the little Peugeot that my boys and I used to take were huge for us.

Were the Twice as Nice and the Club Colosseum also important landmarks of your youth?

Absoutely! All these clubs that are in the film are real places that have massively informed my adolescence. Ezekiel’s is there too, a club in Peckham that we used to go to when we were teenagers. I think it’s a Costa Coffee now… When I moved to Lewisham on Peckham Road, all of a sudden there were all these new clubs that were really exciting. Choice FM became a bigger business because I was on their patch. It’s crazy to think that such an important moment in London club culture is now an apartment building. I’m sure no one in these buildings knows what that meant for Vauxhall and how many amazing things have come out of what was essentially a business club turned into a nightclub.

Pirates is released on November 26. Read the LWLies review recommends.

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