Sally El Hosaini’s My Brother the Devil takes a thought provoking look at life for Arab families living in inner city London. Hosaini’s first feature film as writer and director was a labour of love as the film took six years to come to fruition. She began writing the script and envisioned shooting much of it in her own flat as she began to “knock on doors” looking for funding for the film. However, Hosaini garnered interest from the Sundance Institute and was accepted on to their screenwriters’ and directors’ workshops, where she was given support to complete the project.
The film features stunning performances from James Floyd and Fady Elsayed, who play second-generation Egyptian brothers Rashid and Mo. The film has a strong coming-of-age theme and Hosaini is successful in portraying the effect of family, home and cultural background on the lives of the two young men. Rashid lets male pride get in the way of his education, employment, and the help he needs to make something of his life, but he is determined to keep younger brother Mo from falling into the same gang culture as himself. As one gang member struggles to get a nine –to-five job he wonders, “how much longer, man?”, epitomising the struggle these youths face in escaping the cycle of crime and poverty.
The film was shot on location in Hackney and the result is not what one might expect. The film is visually stunning and won the Best Cinematography award at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival. Hosaini is aware that the inner city council estate she portrays is not as dark and gritty as such settings are in so many urban films. Instead, she aimed to make the films location look like the estate she grew up in where “the sun is shining, there are children playing [and] the grass is green”. The 2011 London riots were taking place during the filming of My Brother the Devil, changing much of the production plans, but as character Sayyid, a photographer, notes “it’s all about where you put your frame” and although Hosaini was prevented from using exterior shots of youths and violence from the riots, the mise-en-scène within the council flats of the family and the gang members is beautiful. The riots further illustrate the need for Hosaini’s film, as she believes audiences need to see that not all youths behave in the same ways and that some want to change their situation in life. Hosaini wanted to challenge the stereotypes forced on inner city youths with her three dimensional characters that differ from many other portrayals of gang culture in British film.
The script for My Brother the Devil was accompanied by a glossary of slang terms so it could be understood by people working on the film, as the director aimed to make the film as authentic as possible. Hosaini notes that she would update this glossary, replacing out dated terms after speaking to youths in Hackney. Due to details such as this the audience is immersed in the world of the youths. This idea of authenticity is inherent to the film and Hosaini successfully blends the harsh reality of gang culture with the cinematic beauty of her film. As a result, My Brother the Devil is one of the most engaging and visually stunning British films of the year.