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VOD Review: BBC Films’ ‘Shoot The Messenger’ (2006)

VOD Review: BBC Films' 'Shoot The Messenger' (2006)

“Whenever I think about it, everything bad that has ever happened to me has involved a black person.”

Those words are the very first spoken by the main character, Joe, in the controversial BBC Films production, Shoot The MessengerS&A faves David Oyelowo and Nikki Amuka-Bird star in the lead roles of Joe and Heather.

Written by Sharon Foster, and directed by Ngozi Onwurah, Shoot The Messenger is a well-crafted, thought-provoking drama about Joe, a black professional who, after learning about a need for more black male teachers in his community, gives up his IT career to become a teacher.  What ensues is a sequence of events that turn Joe’s life upside down.  After innocently shepherding to class a few of his more wayward students, Joe is accused of physical abuse and left to defend himself against the judgmental ire of the school, parents, and, ultimately, what feels to Joe like the entire black population of his community.

As Joe, Oyelowo gives, arguably, the best performance of his early career, portraying the character as a brash, self-assured leader who slowly becomes more vulnerable and needy than the students to whom he had intended to be a savior.  Joe’s only saving grace is his relationship with job counselor Heather, played perfectly by Amuka-Bird.  Having worked together several times since Messenger, it’s easy to recognize the natural chemistry between the two actors, and makes one wonder why we don’t see more of them together.

Shoot The Messenger featured a who’s-who cast of black actors on British television at the time, including Oyelowo, Amuka-Bird, Brian Bovell, Daniel Kaluuya, and Sharon Duncan-Brewster.

But despite Shoot The Messenger’s largely black cast, and its primary focus on its black characters, the film’s main detractors were its black viewers.  Shoot The Messenger was charged with being a negative, stereotypical portrayal of blacks in Britain, highlighting the problems, but providing no solutions.  The BBC and writer Sharon Foster were left to defend a work that ultimately earned Foster the Break-through Talent Award at the 2007 BAFTAs.

I will admit that, at times, Shoot The Messenger is not the most comfortable of viewing experiences; but only because some the negative aspects of the film are so familiar and believable.  This film clearly intends to expose some of the ills that continuously permeate communities of black people in Britain and all over the world.  And as its title suggests, there’s a message to be delivered through this film.  Is that message a bit harsh and hard to swallow?  Yes.  But so are a lot of things that are good for us.

Snagfilms is currently streaming Shoot The Messenger on its website, and through various streaming apps available from iTunes, Amazon, Vudu, and Roku.

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We recently showcased this title in our series I am British but… at Teachers College, Columbia University. those who attended were very impressed by the film and considered it a good piece concerning Black British in particular and Black people in general as the film deals with several issues that pertain to our human experience.
We made reference during the screening of the series to another series we showcased a while ago about black people in France and how Shoot the Messenger dealt with the European experience and the fact that French films have yet to produce a film as powerful as Shoot the Messenger.
This weekend A Man's Story will be another film about Black people in the UK. Ozwald Boateng has a less tortured life however his Blackness appears as a very factor in his life.


I participated in a test screening of this film a few years back, and considered it the most thought-provoking piece of cinematic social-commentary I'd seen in decades — well written and well acted, too. I have searched everywhere for this film, hoping to share it with my family and friends. Just amazing, and highly recommended! Indeed, difficult to stomach at times, due to its in-your-face honesty and unabashed take on the issues we are unwilling to address publicly — or at all — but its worth it in every way. I suggest you do whatever you must do to see this amazing and important work!

L. M. Gipson

f you can get past the rough parts of the character's internalized racism to the redemption moments, it's a film worth discussing, investigating, debating, cursing, acclaiming, all of it. I'd use this film as a teaching and discussion tool all day. Definitely worth buying. But, be warned, it gets black Republican rough off and on throughout. Thought provoking, almost satirical cinema.


I have to see this.


I love these two together, I first saw them in the series "5 days" on HBO years ago!

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