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‘Undefeated’ film targets fear, prejudice & misunderstanding of HIV (Dir. Tudor Payne)

January 4th, 2013 | by Seán J. Grannum
‘Undefeated’ film targets fear, prejudice & misunderstanding of HIV (Dir. Tudor Payne)


SoulCulture was recently invited to the premiere of Undefeated, a short film from Life in My Shoes, a campaign that uses various platforms to tackle the fear, prejudice and misunderstanding surrounding HIV in the UK. The campaign is part of Body and Soul, a UK charity seeks to transform the lives of children, teenagers and families living with, or affected by the virus.

Premiered in London shortly before World AIDS Day (December 1), with news breaking on the day that almost 100,000 in the UK are living with HIV according to new figures, a record number, the timing was certainly apt.

As the synopsis details, Undefeated focuses on one girl’s struggle to survive in a world intent on holding her back. Blessing dreams of stillness, but has a secret that has forced her to run her whole life. When the school secretary exposes her secret, she has to face her fears, her future, her friends and herself.

The film is based on a true story, and Body & Soul aim for it to encourage viewers to see things from another perspective and help break down walls regarding HIV, which is still somewhat of a taboo for certain areas and age groups in Britain. Adding onto that director Tudor Payne hopes it will empower young people and cause all ages to understand that they shouldn’t hold the youth back.

Undefeated delivers, resulting in a moving piece that challenges viewers to do more than just appreciate it as a film, stimulating them to stand up and actually act upon it. Beautifully shot, the film makes use of a range of human emotions to connect with the audience; from laughter all the way to anger as the poisonous effect of the school secretary telling Blessing’s secret to her daughter, who happens to be her friend, slowly increases in magnitude.

Blessing (Pearl Mahaga) was at one point training to be an athlete, and the theme of running “runs” throughout from beginning to end, a symbol of how someone in position may feel to run away if they are keeping the same secret. Despite admittedly being great at athletics Blessing feels the virus may hold her back; as evidenced when her boyfriend, trying to convince her to keep with athletics, says, “but [running] is your dream!” to which she replies “Exactly!” Though that make may it sound as though Blessing spends the whole film running away, I assure you the ending is quite the opposite, and will more than likely leave you feeling uplifted and motivated to inspire change.

The opening scene shows Blessing running in slow motion, a technique used quite frequently in the film. Thankfully Tudor manages to do so without over-doing it, and its use successfully accentuates the emotions involved at the time, never feeling out of place. The dialogue suits the London setting perfectly, and doesn’t shy away from swear words or modern slang, with memorable lines such as “she’s like Nandos and you’re Chicken Cottage” evoking laughter and adding to the realism of the events. Common misconceptions even get an important look-in, as the secretary’s daughter is told Blessing is HIV positive by her mother yet later tells everyone she has aids, because “they’re the same thing, ain’t they.”

At 26 minutes long Undefeated makes the most of each second of screen time, and Pearl’s stellar performance as Blessing instantly captivates, altogether taking you on an emotional journey that feels longer than both the running time and the short time period that the film is set within.

Tudor first got involved with Body & Soul through volunteering, having been introduced to them during tenure as Creative Director of MTV UK’s first HIV awareness campaign, which he was Creative Director for. After meeting the young people there he decided that he wanted to do more to help, and was inspired by the same young people to create the film after seeing how much prejudice against the youth there is, even more so for those who are HIV positive.

For the casting process, he and casting director Gary Davy used a unique method. Beginning the search for a star last year, the team was aided by a number of actors and actresses including Emily Head, who played Carly in The Inbetweeners, alongside Iwan Rheon and Antonia Thomas, who played Simon and Alisha in Misfits.

Over 2000 young people applied by uploading videos online, and after whittling the numbers down the team held a workshop session, where Emily and others read supporting lines for the applicants, eventually finding the star of the film in Pearl.

Pearl found out about the opportunity from a friend, who encouraged her to pursue it. Despite early diffidence due to not have much acting experience, after seeing the Life in My Shoes website and the motivation behind the campaign her fears were eased, especially after seeing that she could apply all within the confines of her bedroom.

Body & Soul and Life in My Shoes as one of it’s outputs both have purposes that are dear to many and likely heart-felt by all and at the premiere acclaimed London rapper Sway DaSafo, known for his truthful lyrics, had one of the most poignant things to say about being invited following a visit to the charity last year: “These kind of events and these kinds of stories actually inspire my music, so it’s actually a two-way street, you know, I come and show my support at the same time I leave very inspired and enthusiastic that young people have a voice and have got an outlet, and I’m one of the spokespeople.”

The film received a standing ovation upon ending and was followed by a Q&A session which revealed plans to include the film as part of an educational resource pack that will be offered to schools and will contain a number of spotlight films on topics such as pain, double lives and more for teachers to incorporate into their lesson plans.

With Tudor hoping to adapt another young person’s story for the silver screen in 2013, exciting times lie ahead for the charity; and if Undefeated is anything to go by, the new film will be another must-see.

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