Fit - DVD - Sarah Boyall
"This is so gay!" the inimical Isaac shouts petulantly. He is part of a group of misbehaving teenagers who have been sent to join a last-chance dance class at the sixth-form college that provides the setting for Fit. The dance teacher, Loris (played by Rikki Beadle-Blair, who also wrote and directed the film), is not afraid to discuss his sexuality with the students. "Are you gay, Sir?" one of the boys jeers at him. "Yes I am, but I'm very open-minded - I really don't mind if you're not," the teacher shoots back.
It is this humour that will hook young viewers in to this challenging film. The reluctant dance students, dressed in Adidas gear of all the colours of the rainbow, are raw-edged but likeable. The upbeat soundtrack and dance routines have the same bouncy appeal as E4's Glee.
But Fit also carries an important message. It was developed by Beadle-Blair and gay rights organisation Stonewall in 2007 as a play to tour schools to tackle homophobic bullying. With the aim of getting the play's message into more schools, Fit was adapted into a film. It was showcased at the London Lesbian and Gay Film Festival last month and, with the support of teaching union NASUWT, a DVD of the film has now been sent to all secondary schools in the UK, along with a teaching resource pack.
When Beadle-Blair was touring schools with the play, he held QA sessions with pupils. He would begin by asking them to put up their hands if they thought being gay was wrong. "Eighty per cent of them would raise their hands," he says. "But at the end they would all be saying you should be proud to be gay."
According to research carried out for Stonewall, nine out of 10 teachers say their pupils experience homophobic bullying. And nine out of 10 teachers have never received any training on how to respond to homophobic bullying. Perhaps as a result of the hangover from Section 28, some teachers still feel uncomfortable with addressing homosexuality in schools.
"Teachers are terrified of discussing sexuality with pupils," says Beadle-Blair. "Not just because of the long shadow cast by Section 28, but also because of personal embarrassment. Many teachers feel moved to do something, but it's a skill that has not been taught to them."
It can also be difficult for teachers to know what constitutes homophobic bullying. "Gay" is a word that has interchangeable meanings in schools. It means "homosexual"; it also means "bad".
Beadle-Blair says pupils justify using the word in this way by saying it doesn't really mean gay, but this does not negate the hurt it causes gay pupils. "When I visit schools I say to one of the pupils, 'Let's use your name in place of the word gay for the rest of the session'. After I've said a few times 'That's sooo Sarah', the pupil usually says 'I get it, I don't like you doing that'."
In Fit, we see in Karmel, a pretty, popular girl who is terrified that her peers will find out she is a lesbian, the way in which her self-image is wrecked from hearing her classmates constantly use the word "gay" as a synonym for "bad". She is so desperate to "fit" that she rejects her girlfriend and dates a boy at the college to cement her "straight" reputation.
Tegs, on the other hand, isn't gay; his classmates just think he is because he is quiet, tap dances and can't play football. Jordan and Ryan conform much better to what their peers expect of them. They can play football, they suck their teeth and walk with pimp rolls. While Ryan, along with Isaac, mercilessly bullies Tegs, Jordan stands up for the quiet boy. When Jordan and Ryan both realise they have feelings for Tegs, they face the prospect of losing their positions in the college and their chances of joining the local football club.
Fit certainly challenges stereotypes. It is arguably the macho, popular Ryan who has the most difficult time in coming to terms with his sexuality when the bully becomes the victim and his friends turn on him. And the boyish, basketball-playing Lee is not gay, despite the jibes she receives from classmates because of the way she dresses ("dykey, dykey, me no likey").
But the film is ultimately uplifting, with all of the members of the dance class discovering that they don't have to hide who they really are; that somehow, by being themselves, they fit.
- Resources to accompany the film can be found at www.stonewall.org.ukat_schoolfit. For a 'Fit' users' guide go to www.vimeo.com7729153
The verdict: 910.