Text JF. Pierets Photos Courtesy of Rhys Chapman
There are 5000 footballers in the UK and not one of them is openly gay. Clubs prevent players from coming out because of an elegit increasing commercial market value, which may be damaging to both the sport as to its players. Not only clubs and players, but also fans are not to be easily let of the hook since homophobia is considered the last bastion of hate on the terraces. Luckily many feel it needs to be punished in the same way that racism is. We all know the statistics but what if you are that kid, standing on that field. Knowing what he knows and trying to hide everything he is. How will that affect a young star, trying to fulfill his potential?
Director Rhys Chapman co-wrote a script with writer Terence Corless, a 20 minute short film that aims to tackle homophobia in football. The story follows a young gay professional footballer coming to terms with his sexuality and searching for acceptance in a hyper-masculine environment. Wonderkid provides an insight into the trauma caused by homophobia, and challenge preconceptions about what it is to be ‘masculine’. Wonderkid is not finished yet. They just reached their Kickstarters goal to give it a go. Meanwhile they already got backed up by The Kevin Spacey foundation and Sir Ian McKellen, just to name some influentials who carry a warm heart towards the project. We join them and I talked to Rhys himself, eagerly to follow the process of Wonderkid all the way.
Tell me why?
I wanted to make something appealing to the British audience, so I thought about doing something on football. To make a movie about a football player and the struggles he has. Not only as a sportsman but also about going through the difficulties of being an adolescent. The more research I did into football, the more I realized how bad the problem of homophobia is. It suddenly made sense to form a story around all that. To show the world how it would affect a young player. How it leads to the destruction of his mental and physical health.
A straight man, making a movie on a gay subject. That’s quite inspiring.
I guess it is kind of strange. I love football and a lot more people could love football if the atmosphere wasn’t so offensive and macho. I grew up playing and I was quite good when I was a kid so basically it was due to my love of the sport. Yet the more research I did when we first came up with the idea, the more I realized that homophobia in football was an issue hidden in plain sight. Especially in England, where people are very scared to talk about things that might offend others. Things are brushed under the carpet, if you like to call it that way. So I was very keen to talk about that problem. On how it would affect a young person at the top of the game and how it can lead to the destruction of his mental and physical health.
Apart from the gay angle, it almost sounds autobiographical.
It’s a fictional film yet I can relate to a lot of issues. I grew up in the countryside in England where we weren’t educated on LGBT issues. It was just not spoken about so that obviously results into homophobia. It was an eye opener when I moved to London to study arts management. I was around a lot of different cultures and especially lots of gay people and some transgenders. To me it was kind of shocking looking back. To look at my upbringing versus my life in London now, the difference between a homophobic and an acceptant environment.
How did people react during your research?
When we first got the project of the ground I was struggling to get anyone in the game itself to talk to me. But since I got everything moving in January, it’s nice to see that a lot of things are being done and talked about. There are a lot of events going on to open up the dialogue and there are a lot of people working very hard to make football more inclusive; who talk to the world about homophobia. Strangely enough football is still a subject people are scared to touch, so I’m very interested to see how things will go in the next few years.
Is that your goal, to make a change?
When I set of as a filmmaker I found it important to educate as well as to entertain. I feel that we have a responsibility to show things that the media cannot. I’m sure they are able to tell you about the issue, but they can’t show you how a 20 year old would be affected by it. So that’s what I’m trying to do here. I met a lot of people who love football but who decided it’s not for them because they’ve been bullied or worse as a result of their sexual preference. We can use this film as a tool for good. We are working with LGBT anti-violence and hate crime charity Galop in order to ensure that the film reflects real life situations. Once the film is made we’re going to start working on events and educational days. Play the film and open up the conversation, hopefully make some changes by doing so.
‘A lot of people are surprised that I’m straight and to the question why I’m doing this I often say that love is something that everyone can relate to.’
And football is a universal topic.
Indeed. Imagine being on holiday, even if you don’t speak the language you make friends because of the understanding of the sport. That’s how powerful football can be. Same as film; you create an entire reality on screen. I think combining the two is quite a powerful way to think about social change. Tackling homophobia by communicating.
You received a grand from the Kevin Spacey foundation.
I still can’t believe a lot of the things that are happening. Spacey gave us a grand to help us get the project going. We invested it in the video we made at Wembley stadium, the website and the marketing material. I made the video in order to educate and to move people, to share the Kickstarter campagne we launched. Not only to get the money to make the film, but also to inform people about the problem out there. A lot of people are giving up their free time to help with the movie.
Needless to say I’m very impressed that Ian McKellen is the narrator of your trailer.
It’s mad and unbelievable but it just shows what a nice man he is. I was invited at the London Pride by Gay Gooners, the Arsenal Football Club’s LGBT supporters group. It was a lovely day and heartwarming day with thousands of people celebrating who they are, without judgment. I saw Ian McKellen just walking around and I just went up to him and told him what we were doing. It was a time in which we were struggling to get things going and it really helped motivate me to talk about it. He said I should let him know if there was anything he could do to help. We send the video to him with me narrating it, asking what he thought. He said he was blown away so he came in and recorded the voice over. It really didn’t sink in until it was done. Ian McKellen is probably one of the most important gay activists of his generation and to have his support.. It sais something to the world that money can’t buy.
A project from the heart.
Indeed. A lot of people are surprised that I’m straight and to the question why I’m doing this I often say that love is something that everyone can relate to. It’s something that a lot of straight people take for granted. Being able to hold your partners hand in the street or to kiss in public. These are thing that a lot of people are denied or at least made to feel like it isn’t correct. I think love is a human right, not a privilege and that’s the core message about what I want to do. Football is the most played and most popular sport in the world and I’m sure Wonderkid can make a stand and can make a difference when it comes to acceptance.
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