1991. Northern England. Daniel (16) sits alone in a garish shellsuit. Blocks of flats and chemical works dominate the skyline. He listens to a Walkman, rapping out-loud from his rhyme-book, sucking his inhaler. Grammar school lads mock his American accent and hairstyle - a rat tail, grabbing posters for a prayer meeting from his bag. Daniel runs to a barbershop and considers getting his rattail shaved off, meeting British-Pakistani hairdressers Mariam and Becky and accidentally sitting on a local hard-lad’s jacket. Challenged to a rap-battle by Mariam’s boyfriend, Rayan, Daniel escapes home, where his mom discovers his unused posters. He retreats, rapping in his room. Next day, Daniel displays posters around town - advertising campaign meetings for his pop - a human shield in Kuwait. After a panic attack in a bunker-like underpass, he is attacked by the lad whose jacket he sat on. His walkman is stolen and rattail cut off. Rescued by Mariam and a reluctant Rayan, she weaves his rattail back in. Daniel’s mom recruits Mariam to her hair salon and Daniel performs a cathartic freestyle rap, accompanied by Rayan’s beatboxing. Forming a duo, their music plays over a montage of Daniel’s pop reuniting with his family.
“Do not oppress a foreigner: you yourselves know how it feels to be foreigners, because you were foreigners in Egypt” - Exodus 23:9 With the plight of refugees, asylum seekers and migrants constantly in the news and a sensitive political subject, attention has recently refocussed on the plight of Afghan citizens and their rights. Northern and North East England continue to receive asylum seekers from Syria and Iraq, but there is still seemingly a disconnect in the West when imagining the shoe on the other foot and empathising with our Middle Eastern neighbours when they reach for help. The evacuation of American families from their compounds in the Gulf in the early 90s is a particularly salient reversal of the traditional refugee narrative, and powerfully resonant for Western Caucasians who might remember Saddam Hussein posing with expat children and families being held as human shields. Rat Tail inserts this narrative into the diverse communities of the North East where the main characters, oppressed and in a strange land, find succour in the British Pakistani community, countering ill-founded connotations of British Muslims that have arisen in the decades since 9/11 and highlighting, as does the bible passage, our commonality.