The ever-popular Di Cunningham from Proud Canaries returns, with a review of the new Justin Fashanu film; Forbidden Games. Step aside Mark Kermode, this is very good.
The hint of 'not safe for work' in the title gave a good hint that this film would not be great viewing for those who revere the memory of Justin Fashanu.
Imagine a film reviewing the highs and lows of Joey Barton, or Mario Ballotelli, Gazza even. No doubt the labels ‘tortured soul’ ‘complex character’, ‘misunderstood’ would feature. But the tone would undoubtedly be upbeat; inviting viewers’ indulgent smiles at the Goodison Park moonie, fireworks in the bedroom, the Dentists Chair.
In Forbidden Games, the story of Justin Fashanu there is no invitation to be charmed, the voices of those interviewed express only anger, resentment or pity. This programme is about the only elite football ever to come out, but even against the backdrop of the 80s; Section 28, AIDS and ethnocentricism Justin’s openness isn’t championed. Compare the narrative with those used to describe the triumphs over adversity of say Tony Adams or Paul Merson. And ultimately, the film damns Justin as a fantasist, instrumental in his own downfall (his accuser’s unverifiable account of an assault is pre-supposed).
The dishonesty here is from the filmmakers. There is misleading subtitling of ‘friends’ who have personal agendas, coyly not one ‘boyfriend’, a lack of contribution from true lovers and friends - there are many still who loved and cherished the man who had potential to contribute positive elements of Justin’s story. There is the suggestion by omission that the decline in Justin’s ability and ensuing rehab was to do with his sexuality; his career was essentially finished at the top level through injury.
When they wish the film makers add historical context (Aids and Thatcher no doubt fuelled homophobia) but that’s lacking in their assassination of Pearl (it’s not clear initially that she was a single mother), it wasn’t unusual in the 60’s for lone parents to be pressured into giving up children for adoption or fostering. And why labour the lack of maternal relationship? Surely it’s one of the games’s clichés that it can be an escape from poverty, war, crime, dysfunctional families? Unless this is the tired ‘Mother-fixation causes Homosexuality’ trope? At least the opening with its absurdly stylised portrayal of the flyblown Barnados home sets the production’s tone for the primacy of emotional manipulation over accurate journalism - mirrored at the end with the risible staged cameo of John Fashanu weeping. This man continued to reject his brother for being gay even after his death.
And the film is homophobic – it treats Justin differently because his relationships were same sex. Many of those interviewed are captious in remembering him; if only the same moral prism were routinely used to assess the exploitiative sexual behavior of straight male players – then and still today, and how regrettable there was no equivalent timely reproach of those recently revealed to have been systematically abusing trainee players in British Football for decades.
Historically and regardless of history, Justin is an astonishing character. A supremely talented footballer on occasion who regularly contributed to his community - back in the day when there were no club Community Foundations - he made his own links to help and support good causes. Above all he had the courage to come out where no others had and none to date have followed.
But the documentary contributors derides Justin as a delusional, rapacious, narcissist. Of course he had foibles, inconsistencies, behaved badly on occasion and was seduced by fame and money - is that really news for a footballer, then or now?
The accusations of self deceit are perhaps justified – the claims of affairs with MPs, the romancing of Julie ‘Bet Lynch’ Goodyear and perhaps even his attempts to continue playing - but he was a source of considerable income to a series of manipulative agents who themselves had little concern for the truth; how distasteful that these same characters are allowed a platform to further damn Fashanu.
Much of the footage used is from old local East Anglian network TV broadcasts (available on Youtube). The archivists will surely will regret not stitching the clips together themselves to tell a better story. Hopefully a better team who know and venerate their subject and have a clearer sense of his importance in history will revisit the Justin Fashanu story.
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