When sudden death means sudden death…
Death Penalty is a dark journey into the world of modern day slavery,
which will highlight the plight and desperation of refugees: those who have nothing to lose and everything to play for.
When a conscientious ex-child soldier accepts the offer of a trial at Chelsea Football Club, he thinks that all of his dreams have come true. But when he finds himself imprisoned in a cruel, barbaric, underground penalty shoot-out contest, he must resort to the violence he hates, to stay alive.
Writer: Steve Edwards Director: Arun Kumar
Lead Producer: Martin Serene Producers: Mace Richards & Arun Kumar
Executive Producer: Hiren Kothari
Executive Producer: Ola Solanke
Budget & Script available on request.
By Steve Edwards
Isn't the penalty shoot-out the most exciting part of every football match?
Especially when it is sudden death. It’s edge of your seat, nail biting, heart thumping drama.
Since the penalty shoot-out is so dramatic, the question begs to be asked, why isn't there a drama about it?
The words ‘sudden death’ are begging to be exploited in dramatic form. Death Penalty is crying out to be made. The only question is, why hasn't it been made already? And why now?
In Bahrain, a country built on slave labor and sex trafficking, young African men are being trafficked from war torn African countries on the promise of a professional football contract, only to wind up working as cheap labourers on construction sites, their passports withheld until they can repay their debts to their traffickers - lost, lonely, broken hearted and enslaved.
Death Penalty rages against modern day slavery, it rages against racism, it rages against labor rights violations, it rages against child exploitation, it rages against the indifference of western news media who would rather report on Messi's transfer fee than the war in Tigray; would rather report on the latest signing by Chelsea than the catastrophic number of deaths of migrant workers on construction sites in Qatar; it rages against the traffickers who exploit the vulnerable. And it rages against the corporatisation of football - a tragic modern day symbol of globalised economic inequality - the rich / poor divide.
Death Penalty threads the five C's together: Capitalism, Crime, Corruption, the Corporatization of football and Children’s rights violations and asks the question John Yorke asks in Into the Woods, what if? What if capitalism was so corrupt that talented young footballers from war torn countries were trafficked to England to play in a live streamed penalty shoot-out contest - where 'sudden death' really is sudden death?
Yet trafficking and exploitation of young men and boys for profit is not confined to the Middle East and Africa.
BBC's Panorama reported recently that here in England crooked football “agents” traffic underage boys who show the potential to be highly paid soccer stars, between clubs, illegally, for profit. And then, when they’re 18 and deemed ‘not good enough’, they’re let go, promised the earth and then dumped in the dirt.
This short film takes a child-soldier from a brutal war in Eritrea, and traffics him to a derelict underground station in London to take part in a brutal penalty shoot-out, live-streamed on the dark web - an online gambling crypto currency goldmine, filling the pockets of a transnational organised crime boss.
In the feature film version English boys are expelled from the football academies and dumped, like lame race dogs to the slaughter, in the death penalty arena, and pitted against the African trafficking victims, fighting from the penalty spot for their lives.
With the racism row in British football, the diversity debate in British television and the immigration issue in British politics, there has never been a more urgent time to tell this story.
By Arun Kumar
I started my career making campaigning documentaries and the second film I made ‘Executions’ was a global phenomenon. It was a hard-hitting, controversial polemic against capital punishment which ensured that the death penalty wouldn’t return officially to the UK. I decided to make the film when I read the 1992 social attitudes survey that 70% of Britons would be in favour of reintroducing capital punishment. My film was designed specifically to show how the death penalty isn't a deterrent and how it has been abused by governments throughout history.
When writer Steve Edwards sent me the script for ‘Death Penalty’ I was intrigued and when I read it I knew this was a film I had to make. Before I switched to drama, all of my documentaries were about the use of violence, primarily for social control or as a political tool. I explored racism and the use of violence to fight back against racists extensively.
Growing up with Indian heritage in 1980s Britain meant that I was subjected to horrific racial abuse and violence on a daily basis. I was hospitalised when I was 13 after having my face broken by skinheads and after recovery, I studied martial arts before physically confronting organised fascists and racists all over the UK. After graduating from university I left the UK and travelled in order to get my head straight and find a different path.
This film draws on all of these experiences: personal and from my film-making career. Currently, the outright racism against refugees blatantly highlighted by the differential treatment offered to white Ukrainians means that there is a real need for this film to highlight the situation young black and brown male refugees find themselves in. The fact that it draws on football will increase its audience and impact.
In the film, Isaac is driven to extreme violence after great suffering. In the end, he escapes, and like me, I hope he discovers a different path.
We aim to explore his path in a scripted series we are developing based on the Death Penalty concept and people trafficking.
This is why this is a film I have to make.
I have a slate of feature film and scripted series projects in active development. One of my other projects, Joba Jela, is a scripted series set in the world of women trafficking in Kolkata, and Death Penalty has a clear connection to this.
Isaac wakes up in a dark cell. He has no idea where he is or why he’s wearing a football kit and a pair of brand new trainers. He bangs the door for attention. A Guard approaches, armed with an Uzi, and forces Isaac along a tunnel and into an arena with a penalty spot, goalposts, and a goalkeeper. CCTV cameras buzz and point down. The Guard orders Isaac
to take a penalty. Under threat of being shot, Isaac shoots… and scores!
Isaac is unaware that from a control room in Bahrain this penalty shoot-out nicknamed ‘the underworld cup’ is being streamed live on the dark web. Millions of dollars are gambled on this brutal game where immigrants - trafficked, sold, and enslaved - are forced to play for their lives from the penalty spot. For the organised crime boss that runs it Death Penalty is an online gambling goldmine.
After scoring his first penalty Isaac is allowed to rest and is rewarded with a carton of chicken. As he scoffs it he hears machine gunfire and watches the body of a young player being dragged past his cell. While thinking of ways to escape Isaac idly makes a stickman on the floor out of chicken bones.
Soon Isaac is led back to the arena to take his second penalty. Another shot, another goal. Back in his cell, more chicken, more gunfire, and another murdered youngster is dragged past his cell. Isaac thinks of taking his own life. It’s only the thought of his wife and young daughter, waiting for him back in his war torn homeland, that stops him.
As Isaac is forced out of his cell to take his third penalty, he knows, if he misses, he is next to be killed. But his skills extend to more than football. His experience as a child soldier in the jungle empowers him to make a weapon out of a chicken bone, blind the Guard and make his escape…