This exclusive interview and news story appeared first on Birmingham Eastside. It was picked up by BBC Midlands Today, BBCWM and the Birmingham Mail who all ran it prominently:
Quietly spoken Theo Johnson is making a big noise about knife culture in his short film Knife Crime, which airs this month as part of Birmingham’s Black International Film Festival.
The young actor, raised in Handsworth, has real experience of the damage that can be inflicted by knives.
A school friend lost his life when stabbed in an unprovoked attack, aged just 17; and Theo was aware of many more knife incidents that occurred in his community as he was growing up.
He also vividly recalls being pursued by a gang when he ventured into a neighbourhood where his face didn’t fit.
Ironically, the latter incident came as he headed to a drama class at the now closed The Drum arts centre in neighbouring Aston.
“I guess you could say I was prepared to risk my life for my drama,” Theo jokes, masking the fear he had undoubtedly experienced at the time.
“I grew up knowing and seeing gang culture around me. There were plenty of distractions but I didn’t want to go down that road and did everything I could to create an alternative for myself.
“I was into making music, rapping, singing, dancing, all that, but I didn’t want to be like everybody else, rapping about gangsta life and violence…I just wanted to celebrate my flow and style.”
After taking to the stage as a 15 year old in a school play, Theo caught the acting bug and went on to study for a BTec in performing arts while still at school. At Walsall College he was the star performer in an acting group that beat 5oo other entrants in a national competition to perform at the National Theatre in London, winning him rave reviews.
He later went on to complete a degree in drama in education at Wolverhampton University, and has since worked with schools and youth groups, including children with autism and other special educational needs, hosting workshops and lessons on acting and story telling.
His big break as an actor came in the last year of his degree, when he was talent spotted during casting for Caitlin Moran’s hit Channel 4 drama Raised by Wolves, set in nearby Wolverhampton.
He played the role of Callum in two series, winning plaudits and a precious insight into the off-screen workings of film making.
“I found that suggestions I made were taken on board, and that people liked ideas I had to improve some aspect of a scene. It made me really interested in the idea of taking control and producing my own work.”
Theo, now 23, produced his short film on knife crime with two aims – to educate and inform youngsters who might be contemplating knife carrying, and to also send viewers on an emotional rollercoaster.
“I think it packs a lot into five minutes – it gets the heart racing and is full of little shocks and twists and turns. I wanted to show how the act of carrying a knife can have dramatic consequences that affect so many people. It has a ripple effect. I hope it gives a powerful message, that one knife affects many lives.”
The film, which was self funded with help from performers and technical talent who gave their time for free, will be shown on October 27 at the Crescent Theatre in as part of a programme of short films prior to the showing of the movie Everything But a Man.
Theo is nominated in the Emerging Talent category of the festival’s MViSA awards in recognition of his acting work and also for his burgeoning writing and film making skills.
His ambitions as a film maker show no signs of abating. He’s already working on concepts for a short film with a powerful anti drink-drive message, and is part way through creating a film about bullying.
He’s also a strong believer in the idea that good will out eventually, even if being a man of colour means he comes up against racist attitudes that might hold him back.
“It might well be true that my colour means some doors close but I refuse to let that be my excuse. If I need to I will create my own doors – whatever happens, I’ll keep pushing through.”
Knife crime and possession of knives continues to be a disturbing trend in Birmingham and the West Midlands.
The number of under 18s caught in possession of a knife or bladed weapon nearly doubled in three years:
- 95 reported offences in 2013-14
- 166 reported offences in 2015-16
Of these recent incidents, some 41 incidents took place on school premises. It is thought these represent just the tip of the iceberg, with scores more incidents going unreported.
West Midlands Police recently launched a hard hitting anti-knife campaign to illustrate the catastrophic consequences that knives can have on young lives.
The campaign slogan “Either Way He’s Not Coming Home” focusses on the potential consequences for anyone carrying a knife through a series of dramatic posters.
It is particularly targeting mothers of young men, urging them to look out for the signs their child might be carrying a weapon and to talk about the dangers.