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Review: Shabu (Dir Samirra Raphaëla (2021): “refreshing blend of Black boy joy and teenage adventure”

Review: Shabu (Dir Samirra Raphaëla (2021): “refreshing blend of Black boy joy and teenage adventure”

He’s accidentally crashed his grandmother’s car, driven without a licence and at 14 is too young to drive a car anyway.  Sharonio “Shabu” Abisonia, to pay back the debt he now owes to his grandmother, channels his energy, and makes a promise of recompense, by focusing on his dream: Making music.  

As punishment however for his actions, Shabu must work selling ice poles earning back the money he lost of his grandmother’s.

So lays the story for Shamira Raphaëla’s tender teen documentary, Shabu.

“I’ve always wanted to be bigger than everyone else” – #Shabu.

Shabu spends most of the film navigating around the local places in Peperklip (so named because in shape, it resembles a paperclip) and the surrounding housing complex in which they live with jubilant and buoyant protagonist, his girlfriend and friend. 

Although in Shabu, we are presented with an authentic cinematic achievement from Raphaëla’s oeuvre – which includes Deal With It (2014), Lenno and the #Angelfish (2019), Daddy and the Warlord (2019) and Our Motherland (2019).  Shot in Rotterdam’s De Peperklip estate and community and pieced together in a way that feels like the film belongs or is connected to it, the scenes gracefully and thoughtfully weave together to creating a refreshing blend of black boy joy and teenage adventure.

Life on the estate can be hard, and when a neighbour tells them about an elevator filled with blood that could maybe be from a fatality, the friends go to see it.

This of course is a stalwart ‘coming of age’ film trope, reminiscent of Ricky, Tre, Chris, and Doughboy in their pilgrimage in Boyz n the Hood (1991)  or Stand By Me (1986) when teenagers begrudgingly encounter violence.

Shabu sits somewhere comfortably within the young adult, coming-of-age genre.  In a scene at an arcade hall the film uses a surrealist motor themed montage where we see Shabu visited by a spectral voice – his mother, who is furious at his actions, and criticizes him over this and his room being a mess.

     However, Shabu is a sheer celebration underscoring the joyfulness of black youth, from the stem of black boy jubilance.

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Cycling across the city bridge into the town city lights, lit in the twilight sky reflect in the river.  The two boys are free and pernicious, they share a buzz and aliveness that makes us want to celebrate with them and celebrate life.

     As his friend remarks on the beauty of the view in front of them, an excitement and city charm reminiscent of that kind of joy and alive energy 1920s and 1930s Harlem Renaissance would have emitted.  In this part of Shabu’s journey, contrasts of dark, spotlight, shadow and light come together to compose the scene and capturing tender friendship.

Shabu’s friend, in a bid to console him over his breakup says, “Stephaney is one of 13 billion people who live in the Netherlands”.  Again, it makes us wonder at how fickle life is, how life goes fast when you’re young and how the triumph of a life that is joyful rises naturally from the surface from the honesty and innocence of the two kids.

It is a moment that takes its time to remind the audience that sometimes we have to snatch these moments of joy where we can.

By Abigail Cleo Yartey