Young Soul Rebels is a 1991 British coming-of-age film written by Derek Saldaan McClintock, Isaac Julien and Paul Hallam, and directed by Julien as his first narrative feature film. The film examines the interaction between youth cultural movements during the late 1970s in the UK — namely skinheads, punks, and soulboys — along with the social, political, and cultural tensions between them. The film was released in the United Kingdom on 9 August 1991, followed by a North American release on 6 December 1991. The film was the feature film acting debut of Sophie Okonedo (a future Academy Award nominee) and Eamonn Walker.
The film revolves around various plots. The central story-line is about a murder investigation involving one of the central characters (Valentine Nonyela) and his relationship with his girlfriend (Sophie Okonedo).
The second narrative involves the relationship between a gay punk (Jason Durr) and a soulboy (Mo Sesay) and the racism and homophobia they face in both West Indian and white British communities. The film is a love story that can be seen as an allegory for racial and class solidarity, as their love transcends class and race barriers.
Set in London in 1977, the plot takes place against the background of the Queen's Silver Jubilee. The film begins as buddy movie between two friends, Chris and Caz, who run a pirate radio station from a tower block in Dalston, East London. The film starts with the murder of their friend TJ while cruising for sex in the local park at night. While Caz is distraught by the death of his friend, Chris seems focused on balencing a professional career in commercial radio without selling out. They both want to promote soul music while the prevailing popular music is punk.
The murder and the different paths they diverge on causes tension between buddies Chris and Caz. Chris discovers that he has a tape recording of the murder but fails to hand it in as evidence. He is then pulled in by the police as a suspect because he was in possession of TJ's cassette radio. He tries to call Caz but Caz is busy with his new boyfriend, Billibud, who is a punk that espouses the views of the Socialist Workers Party while wearing (admittedly nicked) Vivienne Westwood designer T-shirts.
Chris and Caz then have a showdown on the roof of the tower block and Chris nearly falls off the roof. He then meets Tracy and she persuades him to send the tape to the police, but not before he has made a copy. They then make love on a rooftop. On the day of the Silver Jubilee celebrations Caz and Billibud go to the street fair, where Billibud is attacked by the local skinheads. Caz and Billibud return home and make love. That evening Chris goes to the radio station but Caz is not there and the studio has been vandalised. He starts broadcasting "Funk the Jubilee" but feels is not the same without his partner Caz. Chris is then attacked by TJ's murderer who turns out to be someone he and Caz had thought of as a friend. He escapes but cannot find Caz.
A grand reckoning takes place at an open air disco in the park where TJ was murdered. While Caz and Billibud are MCing, Chris attempts to warn them about the revelations regarding TJ's murderer. A Molotov cocktail is thrown onto the stage and Caz and Billibud begin trying to save the vinyl records. Chris puts on the tape of TJ's murder, but doing so requires going onto the stage, whereupon he falls to his death in the inferno of his own creation.
The scene is a bitter-sweet microcosm of the racial and sexual tensions of the British 1970s, with skinheads hassling Chris and Caz, whites making snide remarks about how things have changed since their youth, and blacks stating how they were unable to decide if they hate whites, mixed-race people or "batty boys" most. Yet, despite all of this, youth in the clubs are enjoying the music, drinking, dancing and bonking inter-racially while paying no mind to the gay men around them.
The film ends in a life-affirming scene with the two DJ buddies reconciling their differences while they clean records, which is followed by a one-by-one each of the friends joining into dance together.
The film received the critics prize at the 1991 Cannes Film Festival.