CHESTER P FOR MAYOR: Hip Hop, Homelessness & the Housing Crisis Review
Directed by Greg Hall
Documentary review by Lorenzo Lombardi
In London, England, there are over 70,000 homeless households. And even at that, over 2,500 people are sleeping rough each night on our pavements, benches and other such uncomfortable places. National services are available, but other than the occasional accommodation, not much light is at the end of the tunnel for these unfortunate masses. Sometimes, though, someone lends a caressing hand and informs us about these problems. That someone here is Joey Coombes, better known as rapper Chester P.
CHESTER P FOR MAYOR: Hip Hop, Homelessness & the Housing Crisis is an effective documentary that follows the Task Force founder as he attempts to convey the truth about the effects of austerity and the housing crisis on the people of London. The self-named title is chosen after his campaign to help the homeless, and he does so by raising money from sales and subsequently buying necessities such as socks and sleeping bags.
The titular rapper carries the documentary emotionally through his down-to-earth insights of the misfortunate and his personal experiences on the subject. Giving a heart-felt reflection, Chester tells us that his dad lived a life of vagrancy, which in turn makes him passionate about wanting to help these people. Like perusing a character study book, Chester P for Mayor invokes an increasing sense of sympathy for Chester as you relate to his layered search for reason behind the government’s apathy for the rough-sleepers and other unsheltered people occupying our streets.
From the start of this documentary, a tone of revolution seems apparent. The introduction shows a montage activists holding banners, protestors burning things and other defiant images. When I first started watching this documentary, this introduction did not appeal to me, as it seemed to glorify anarchy, so it may drive away a number of viewers too. But, as you watch the documentary, you will fathom the extent of what people do when problems seemingly fester.
Chester takes the viewer on an informative journey through themes mainly of injustice and hopelessness. These themes are solidified when unflinching interviews are undertaken of the people affected either physically or emotionally by the stark figures of the homeless. Interviewees include people who have taken a moral compass to act upon themselves through various methods. For example, a man by the alias of “DK” gives an anecdote revolving around him pouring concrete over a set of Tesco-owned “anti-homeless” spikes. Another interviewee, Jamie Mills, is part of a more legal group called “Lewisham Homeless Persons Union”, which are shown to be protesting outside a customer service centre.
Some stridents I have with this film, though, are technical factors. While the film does well at conveying the subject matter, some audio production mishaps and abrupt editing moments bring the film down a notch. At one point, during an interview with a member of a group called Focus E15 discussing social housing. The problem is, you cannot hear half of what she is saying because of a song in the background and a decrease in sound quality. On the other hand, some of the editing is abrupt, as a scene sometimes opens to dialogue immediately without much respite.
The documentary’s positives, however, outweigh the negatives. One of its positives is some of the deep, visceral images that are the focus in this documentary. A broken window is the subject of a shot before an interview starts, and a sequence of beautiful and heartfelt images show supplies arriving for the homeless, boosted by the consistently good, guitar-filled score. Its biggest positive, however, is Chester P and his approach to the subject matter. As suggested by my statement of his sympathy above, he is honest and wise when discussing the homeless, all while maintaining humility when discussing other matters like his music. The viewer is assured that they are put in firm hands with this documentary, as his passion and dedication to the subject is evident in every sentence he utters.
Chester P’s urban documentary excels at both pertaining to the many aspects of the homeless problem in England, informing people about the myriad of problems in a relatable and often inexplicably verbal way. It also succeeds in giving the spotlight on the hip-hop artist’s selfless and benevolent personality. I did not fathom the extent of the homeless problem, but this dream mayor candidate has opened my mind.