Life & Culture

This Sensual Film Celebrates Queer Artist Ajamu’s ‘Black Perverts Network’

Ajamu: Joyful Insurrection is a short film from London-based director Stephen Isaac-Wilson, a celebration of the seminal photographer and queer activist Ajamu X

A new film from London-based filmmaker and artist Stephen Isaac-Wilson premieres online today as part of Film4’s Random Acts series – titled Ajamu: Joyful Insurrection, it is a celebration of – and collaboration with – seminal British artist Ajamu X. Ajamu, born in Huddersfield and now living and working in London, is a fine-art photographer and queer activist, whose work explores sexuality, desire and pleasure in contemporary British society, particularly among the black LGBTQ community. 

“We’ve been planning to do a project together for a while, but have never been able to secure the funding, so when Film4 asked if I wanted to make something for their Black History Month series, it seemed like the perfect chance to do something together,” Isaac-Wilson tells Another Man of the short film. “I can’t remember how I discovered [Ajamu’s] work... I do remember meeting him four or so years ago though, he took my photo at a nightclub. What struck me about his work is its ability to feel soft yet intense.”

The film itself, which was shown on Film4 earlier this week and is available to watch now on YouTube, focuses on the Black Perverts Network (BPN), a private sex party which Ajamu ran from his Brixton flat for three years in the late 1990s. BPN, as the film explains, was a liberatory space, in which Black and Asian men who “enjoyed leather, rubber, underwear, or less... could experiment, play and fuck”. “It was born out of a desire to have a space to experiment and meet other men who were often marginalised in more mainstream, mostly white kink spaces,” Isaac-Wilson explains. 

Set to contemporary scenes of young black men, evocative of Ajamu’s own portraiture – in some they wrestle, or embrace, clad in leather, denim or underwear – the artist provides a voiceover in which he remembers BPN, from its first evenings (“some stayed all night, some even stayed for breakfast”) to the “science” of a good party (“the house was broken down into various colours, red, blue and pitch black for those who were less confident”). “I was trying to capture a particular type of energy that I felt was outside of London,” he says of the nights. “Some [of the men] were dark, some were muscle-bound, some were just out and out damn sexy.”

Of the boys who star in Ajamu: Joyful Insurrection, Isaac-Wilson says one of the references was adult actor TJ Swann – “so I wanted the boys to have a similar type of beauty – a soft trade look,” he says. “Jonathan Johnson did the casting and he got it so right. It was also great that I knew most of the boys, with some even starring in films I’ve directed before – the whole day was so funny and extra.” Reuben Esser, Another Man’s fashion editor, styled the film.

Isaac-Wilson plans to work with Ajamu again in the near future: “This film is just the beginning,” he says. He hopes the film might make “people think about their own lives, and raise their standard for love, pleasure and friendship”. As for Ajamu, Isaac-Wilson’s film already marks an aim fulfilled: “If guys are still talking about the Black Perverts Network 20-plus years later,” he says in the voiceover, “then it achieved what it set out to do.”

Watch the film below.