Edge of the City, a documentary on Bradford’s social services,

Review: Edge of the City

By Dominic Casciani
BBC News Online community affairs reporter

Social worker Omar (r) tries to keep teenager Matthew on the straight and narrow
Edge of the City, a documentary on Bradford’s social services, has been screened by Channel 4 after being dropped in May after police warned it could inflame racial tensions at local election time.
There’s been a lot said about Edge of the City – almost all of it by people who had not actually seen the controversial documentary on Bradford’s social services.

AGAIN GAGGING THE PRESS,HIDING THE TRUTH.

More than a year in the making, Edge of the City follows social workers with difficult cases in one inner city.

The most controversial of these witnesses authorities and parents trying to stop groups of young men who are grooming girls as young as 11 for sex.

ASIAN MEN GROOMING YOUNG WHITE GIRLS

Although none of the officials in the film raise race as the issue in these predatory relationships, the filmmakers make it perfectly clear that the abusers are predominantly Asian, and all of the abused girls are white.

THE TRUTH IS ASIAN MEN ARE SEX OFFENDERS

This is the controversy at the heart of the film which cries out for explanation. But instead, the story is shoe-horned into 90 minutes, along with those of an elderly man fighting for independence, a troubled couple dealing with disability and alcoholism and a trainee social worker’s determination to help a serial teenager offender.

DONT EXPOSE ASIAN MEN

So given the unprecedented access to Bradford social services, did the filmmakers use it responsibly?

Or did they produce a film that, as its critics would have it, provided ammunition to racists?

THE RACE CARD,SO ITS OK TO MOLEST WHITE GIRLS BUT DONT UPSET THE ASIAN MEN WHO COMMIT THESE CRIMES

Sensitively observed

The story of the trainee social worker and his young criminal charge is compelling human drama.

Omar Sheikh, the trainee who happens to be Muslim, looks after (“tracks”) Matthew, a 96-times teenager offender on early release and a tagging order, who happens to be white.

THATS OK HES WHITE

Omar mentions their ethnic backgrounds to the camera, but it’s unclear whether he thinks it overly important or was asked to talk about it. Matthew doesn’t seem to mind – at one stage he has a girlfriend from a mixed race family.

Omar’s attempts to keep his charge on the straight and narrow, and Matthew’s slow realisation that he is running out of chances, is sensitively observed and impartially reported.

And despite the unremittingly grim nature of Edge of the City, Omar’s bloody-minded determination to slap some sense into Matthew makes him a vivid advert for any social services recruitment campaign.

Unanswered questions

But, how the programme deals with the story of sexual abuse in Keighley and Bradford is more problematic.

Caroline and Keith face disability, harassment and alcoholism
Without a doubt, the programme makers, with their remarkable access to social workers, came across a tragic story which needed telling.

A Barnardos expert says “scores” of young men are involved; her local social services colleague says there is a massive hole in what the authorities can do. The filmmakers talk to one girl who has had 100 sexual partners.

But time and time again, the programme leaves questions unanswered.

Abuse of girls

Very early on in the film, the narrator says Bradford’s ethnic mix “traditionally” leaves a city divided. Difference is, of course, noticeable – but does it inevitably create division? Other cities would consider this a glib conclusion.

When the narrator explains that some abused girls are as young as 11, why does the camera stop on a shot of Bradford’s main mosque?

And when the narrator says that young Pakistani drugs gangs are beyond the control of “community elders”, are we being told this entire community should be considered guilty of neglect?

Disability and alcoholism

And as you wait for answers, the film changes tack onto another tale: Caroline and Keith, a sad and complex story of disability, harassment and alcoholism.

Critics of Edge of the City will accuse the filmmakers of being, at best, naive in how they have incorporated race into the story.

Two senior social workers and one police officer detail the complex methods of sexual grooming. None of these professionals suggests that race, faith or ethnicity is a factor. They say it’s down to power, misogyny and the self-esteem of the girls who believe the lies of men who shower them with gifts.

So if race has been a factor in Bradford and Keighley – and the interviewed mothers clearly believe it is – the film neither offers a theory nor explanation as to why this should be the case.

Unclear ending

Edge of the City clearly did not set out to be a far-right or racist polemic. It is quite often an experimental and complex documentary, mixing genres and cinematic approaches.

But after 90 minutes, you come away unsure what to think about what you saw.

Perhaps had the producers made four separate programmes, following each of the four stories, a lot of these questions would have been answered.

WATCH IT YOU MIGHT EXPOSE THE TRUTH

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