Shoot the Messenger is a BBC film written by Sharon Foster and directed by Ngozi Onwurah. The film aired in 2006, receiving a mixed reception. The film is an extremely provocative story that follows a young Black man in his own experience with racial self-hatred. It is clear that the filmmakers consider negative stereotypes a realistic hurdle to be crossed and shamelessly embrace them. However, if the satirically negative outlook of the film can be tolerated, there may be some worthwhile messages to absorb, including an analysis of the prison system in the U.K. and its treatment of Black citizens.
Joe, the protagonist, is a teacher. Joe quit his former lucrative job because he wanted to direct and impact positive change in his community. He was tired of the general public assigning blame for the problems in their community. He wanted to proactively work on solving those issues. So, as a teacher, he planned to give excessive detention to at-risk Black students as a means of “enforced education.”
Despite Joe’s good intentions, his method of imprisonment and his need to fix young Black boys led to the alienation of his ‘worst’ student, resulting in the student falsely accusing Joe of physical abuse. This scandal then pushes the Black community to turn against Joe, causing him to lose his job, and shortly after, descending into madness with the realization that Black people are the cause of all of his problems. After realizing what he needs to do, Joe is revitalized and works his way back to his original mission: fight community issues head on.
The student who initiates Joe’s disgrace keeps appearing in Joe’s life over time. Though Joe first responds with petty revenge, he eventually realizes the flaws in his past actions. Joe did not make an attempt to reach out to his troubled students outside of keeping them confined to the school. We learn from his student later that Joe was not well liked by the Black kids, with the looming question, “why was we never good enough like we were?”
The incarceration statistics in the U.K. show an alarming parallel to Joe’s approach for policing his students, and it tends to raise the same question at the larger scale of society.
By Elliott Anderson