Dear Babylon (2019)
Words by Erin Waks
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Dear Babylon (2019)

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Police, protests and housing estates. Real conversations about governmental action and the marginalisation of the working class. Director Ayo Akingbade throws us into constructed archival footage, while we learn of the passing of a fictional ‘AC30 Housing Bill,’ which would see them evicted for the same reasons they live in low-income housing. The impact of Dear Babylon has particular weight in London’s East End; here, we meet a plethora of people living in Tower Hamlets. We discover the real lives this classist bill affects. The message is clear: people living in housing estates matter, the working class matter, the people of London matter.
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Indeed, the film is based on fictional legislation, which is nonetheless remarkably realistic in Britain's current political landscape. However, rather than presenting propaganda or persuasion, it serves as a way for those who would be most affected to candidly speak about their discontent and sense of ostracism. It represents a real ongoing issue, governmental action that disfavours those living in housing estates.


It is no surprise, then, that cinema is the chosen means of protest – Akingbade herself previously directed Tower XYZ, a short exploring gentrification in London. Other examples of successful documentary-style films supporting social movements include Swedish filmmaker Göran Hugo Olsson’s Black Power Mixtape (2011) and Zed Nelson’s The Street (2019), discussing racism and social housing respectively. Whilst Akingbade’s film is no novel concept, it certainly adds depth and a personal take to the topic at hand.


Gritty, honest and personal. Dear Babylon explores three ‘filmmakers’, Ada, Jazz and Rooney, played by Donna Banya, Marla Kellard-Jones and Emmanuel Adeneye respectively, as they set out to interview tenants on their estate about the new bill. While some of the acting perhaps detracts in part from the emotion of the documentary-style sections, the self-conscious decision to produce a film examining tangible social issues is expertly delivered.


The true success of the short film is in its portrayal of these human testimonies. Telling ‘the grimy but beautiful tale of two cities,’ the residents express their thoughts on the AC30 bill. As the protagonists elucidate, the aim is to ‘make them feel like their voices are being heard.’ Having been regularly ignored by the UK government, who often favour the expulsion of the working-class from Central London, the people are striking back. These people introduce themselves, name themselves even, in a true reclaiming of their voice. Their stories are brutally honest.


Perhaps the most intriguing shot is the final scene. The camera zooms in on Ada's face, she smiles, giving a sense of hope, amidst the distress and chaos present throughout the film. We are provided with an overall desire to ponder the issues, yet we feel as though this film is a first step toward creating a better, more equal, future.

The real interviews with Londoners provides a truthful depiction of the city’s social fabric, rendering the film even more indicative of reality, and illustrative of the real hardships these people face. The film is imbued with a sensitive self-awareness allowing it to behard-hitting and relevant today.