On Saturday 20th of September, I made my way to the distinctly Dalston venue of Rio Cinema to experience filmmaker Cecile Emeke’s gastronomically titled two short films Ackee & Saltfish and Kebab, followed by an extensive Q&A with the director and actors. Accompanied by a glass of (free) wine and good company, I finally gorged on the hotly anticipated and much talked-of shorts alongside a sea of head wraps and Afros.
Although I had been aware of Ackee & Saltfish through the heavily quoted phrase in the film: “Couscous is not rice”, I had no knowledge of what Kebab would be about beyond a possible correlation to the Middle Eastern dish – and I was certainly in for an unexpected surprise. Kebab was shot using a long take of a dining table, two flatmates and a takeaway, forcing the viewers to play close attention to the dialogue between the two characters. The prelude is straightforward – Anthony has a kebab that he isn’t willing to share and Cameron hasn’t eaten all day, however the lingering questions that are left behind by Kebab is what is most striking. In just 19 minutes, viewers are given an insight into being desperate and dependant post graduation, and what it truly means to “fend for your self”. Cameron is completely reliant on Anthony for lodging and lunch despite his university degree with only a bible to call his own, and this leads him to commit the ultimate sin.
Ackee & Saltfish similarly explores complex social irritations such as gentrification and cultural appropriation through a very relatable scenario. Friends Olivia and Rachel set off in search for Jamaican food when Rachel forgets to prepare lunch, only to find that their revered childhood restaurants have all been turned into over-priced gourmet cupcake cafes. Out of the two films, it was Ackee & Saltfish that I found to be more hard-hitting, since gentrification in London is something that I am constantly made aware of. In the last 20 years, historically ethnic neighbourhoods like Brixton and Hackney have slowly but surely been turned into hipster havens, meaning that privately owned businesses have been driven out due to high rent prices and a changing demographic. It is these frustrations felt by ethnic minority Londoners that Ackee and Saltfish so articulately expresses.
The Q&A took an expectedly social turn, with commentary ranging from the difficulties that Black university graduates face in the vast workforce, to the right to wake up feeling “a little bit pissed off” every day. Overall, the afternoon was made in to an opportunity for young people to creatively vent their exasperations at the current political and social climate, and the venue became a productive environment for disgruntled, but hopeful youth. Among the many nuggets of wisdom shared in the cinema that day, I took away one for myself: I should feel validated in being angry at the way the world works, but only if I am willing to channel that anger into a positivity that helps to make a change – that is exactly what Cecile Emeke has so brilliantly done.