It began as a successful Kickstarter campaign as its potent promotional video narrated by the incomparable Sir Ian McKellen (X-Men: Days Of Future Past), drove home the daunting prospect of walking out to a packed Wembley Stadium as fans of the opposition mocked and taunted a player, simply because of their sexuality.
Now, Rhys Chapman’s vital short film Wonderkid has been deservedly gaining much-needed traction, gracing this year’s Raindance Film Festival along with being the powerful lead-in to the Stonewall Rainbow Laces campaign as all twenty Premier League clubs support the campaign once more.
Given its televised debut through the overwhelming backing received from Sky Sports, the film challenges and dissects an issue that has been shamefully marginalised up to now. Homophobia in the hyper-masculine world of football. As various figures across respective sports have opened up about their initial struggles and fears in coming out whilst receiving wonderful support in the process, it remains almost a taboo subject for this particular sporting environment.
Immersed in the bustling capital of London, the deep blue colour scheme that is instilled into the film’s aesthetic, represents the fragile emotional state of Chris Mason’s tortured and apprehensive protagonist. Underpinned by the recognisable voices of Alan Smith and Geoff Shreeves as they imply his temperament is hindering him reaching his full potential as he makes his desired move to a new club, the sad reality is that he is struggling to come to terms with the fact he is gay, in a sport that has little history in supporting gay footballers whilst understanding the trauma and scrutiny potentially facing them.
Wonderkid is a fantastic achievement, in replicating the authenticity that films of this genre crave as sweeping aerial shots of football stadia impress. Yet most crucially, it effectively presents the obstacles football still faces in embracing a top-level gay player in a compelling way.
The despicable and derogatory terms used by fans in the stands towards Mason’s star player, as the younger contingent of the crowd look on bewildered, setting a harmful precedent. A hard-hitting montage of terrible tweets that are directed towards him after missing a day of training, as they remain oblivious to his emotional hardships, representing the troubling power that social media platforms can play in a modern climate. Casual homophobia passed off as ‘banter’ by his outspoken team-mates, questioning his musical tastes leading to an intense face-off. The sheer complexity in dealing with its chosen subject, that is achieved through Mason’s brilliantly nuanced performance and Chapman’s immaculate direction in such a lean running time, is remarkable.
For all its tough and sympathetic sequences, the film thankfully retains a positive outlook, encouraging us to lead an authentic life and simply #BeYourself. One particular scene sees Mason’s player look out the window, baring witness to an exciting break-dancer, admiring the freedom of movement and expression that he so desperately wants and should have as a basic human right.
Constantly questioning ‘What’s wrong with me, lad?’. Commentator Martin Tyler perhaps sums it up best. ‘His talent is undeniable and that’s all that should matter.’ Let’s hope through such vital and superb cinematic works like Wonderkid, football achieves that stance. Sooner rather than later.