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Last Updated: Saturday, 13 November, 2004, 15:59 GMT
New approach in racism film
Clare Gabriel
BBC Wales News Website

Amma  Asante
Asante says she could have set her film anywhere but chose Wales
A racist murder by four teenagers living on the edge of society in a Welsh community is the story of a harrowing film now on release.

But Amma Asante's award-winning first film A Way of Life tells the story from the racists' point of view.

It's draining stuff from the word go - a Turkish man is beaten to death in the street as the baby of one of the killers watches from her pushchair.

For Asante, of Ghanaian descent, it has been a journey of understanding.

The 1.8m film both written and directed by Asante has drawn financial backing in Wales and was premiered at the Cardiff screen festival on Wednesday.

"The only point of doing A Way of Life was that I could write about another experience other than that of a black female," says Asante.

Amma Asante and members of the cast of A Way of Life
Asante paid tribute to the 'fantastic' acting of the young stars

A former actor in the children's series Grange Hill, she was also keen to give more exposure to the young Welsh voice which she believes is not seen enough in British films.

She did that by drawing her young cast from the south Wales valleys - all inexperienced actors.

The actor for the film's central character Leigh-Anne Williams, played by 17-year-old Stephanie James, was found after months of hunting in a Saturday morning workshop in Aberdare.

It is Leigh-Anne, struggling to provide for her baby Rebecca below the poverty line and with no family support, who is the main force behind the racist killing of a Turkish neighbour in an unidentified Welsh terraced street.

Asante chose Wales as the setting for her work specifically because of its long history of black immigration which grew up around Cardiff and the docks of south Wales.

Multicultural Britain

She says she wanted to explore how that history might impact on us today, but stresses the film could have been set anywhere in the world.

The racist killing at the centre of the film is fictitious and a vehicle for Asante to explore gang crime led by girls in a multicultural Britain.

Another aim for the Londoner was to give her young niece and nephew - who are part English, Welsh, Black and White and growing up in Wales - some idea of their own identity.

"I know myself how hard it was for me when I was growing up in London - I thought I was Ghanaian for years - and it wasn't until in got to 19 or 20 that I really began to find who I really was," she said.

"I hope A Way of Life gives my niece and nephew, now seven and five, some kind of a role model.

"Just in terms of me writing something which could have been set anywhere in the whole wide world, I have deliberately chosen Wales, because I wanted to give them that".

A scene for A Way of Life
Actor Stephanie James was found in Saturday morning workshop

Asante has picked up plaudits and awards for the film which has been three and a half years in the making.

She is grateful for the time and commitment many people gave to the project - Oscar nominee Brenda Blethyn (who starred in Secrets and Lies, Little Voice) joined the cast of unknowns for a cameo role as Leigh-Anne's mother.

Now she has two more projects in the pipeline and says she does not think it will be too long before she returns to Wales because she had become so attached to the place.

A Way of Life is on release in Wales and London and goes on wider release across the UK on 3 December.

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