Watch: Trailer for Boxing Day, directed by and starring Aml Ameen
There's a new British romcom coming this Christmas. In and of itself, that's nothing too unusual. Intriguingly, this one is not actually set at Christmas at all — the clue is in the fact it's called Boxing Day — but, more importantly, it stars a predominantly Black cast.
In the director's chair is 36-year-old British actor Aml Ameen. He's best known to British audiences for playing the tragic role of Trife in 2006 movie Kidulthood, as well as his work in TV hit I May Destroy You, Idris Elba's Yardie and, of course, as PC Lewis Hardy in The Bill. Stateside, meanwhile, he's most recognisable for portraying Alby in YA actioner The Maze Runner.
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Boxing Day marks his feature directorial debut and, in the semi-autobiographical tale, he plays the leading role of Melvin, who brings his American fiancée Lisa (Aja Naomi King) home to England to meet his British-Caribbean family over the festive period. As the first trailer for the movie lands online, Ameen had a chat with Yahoo Entertainment UK about what people can expect when the film hits cinemas.
It's (probably) the first ever Boxing Day movie
"That's a good angle," Ameen laughs to Yahoo Entertainment UK at the prospect of his film being the first movie ever to be set on Boxing Day, rather than its more glamorous precursor. "But if we say that outside of England and Canada, they'll not know what the hell we're talking about."
Does that mean the movie might struggle to find an audience elsewhere in the world? "In this era, we're in the social media and the digital platform era. Things travel if they want to," says Ameen. He adds: "I'm hoping that the trailer and the fun and some of the smart casting and hopefully the UK loving it will give it its wings."
He didn't even know who Little Mix were
Speaking of smart casting, one of the most eye-catching names on the Boxing Day cast list is that of Little Mix singer Leigh-Anne Pinnock. She's a global celebrity at the heart of the movie, making her acting debut. Ameen says it was his co-writer, Bruce Purnell, who suggested that Pinnock's audition tape was worth looking at. "I didn't really know who Little Mix were. I'm sure I'll be slaughtered for that," Ameen admits.
He added: "I did not know who Little Mix were, until I realised that I knew exactly who they are. They were the people who, every time I got on the plane, they were playing. Every time I went to a gym, they were playing. Because I had been in America for so long, I wasn't really overly aware."
But once Ameen had watched Pinnock's audition and subsequently met her in person, he realised that she was definitely the right woman for the job and has a "great future" in acting.
"I watched this interview with her when she's holding a little dog and talking to this gentleman. I experienced her humanity and how raw and honest she is," says Ameen. "I experienced first-hand why people have taken to her so much. She has this degree of transparency that I think most of us don't dare be. I love that and I love that for the character. Working alongside her to build this, I experienced someone who is so hard-working, incredibly humble and down to earth."
It's lighter than his previous work
Ameen's work in front of the camera, especially in his British roles, has tended towards the tragic and the brutal. But he's keen to note that Boxing Day sees him on more light-hearted, frothy form, and he hopes it will help to allow more stories of Black British joy to be told.
He says: "British storytelling, especially for Black people, has been kind of marginalised to this trauma and pain experience, which we do eloquently and we do wonderfully well. But I wanted to show another side of what British culture is for us. We have a great time. We have family. We have everyday life. The nobility of everyday life stories is a great thing to aspire to.
"When I'm watching those films at the end of the year and I want to feel good, I'm watching Love Actually or Crazy Rich Asians. I wanted to create something for this generation's culture so that they would have that film for themselves."
He was inspired by Hollywood legends
Ameen's acting work has often been at the cutting edge of modern British cinema, but his influences as a director stretch all the way back to classic Hollywood. "My origin of watching films and being inspired by films are films like The Philadelphia Story with Katharine Hepburn and Jimmy Stewart and Cary Grant. Those films from that period of time are what I want to reflect with my writing," he reveals.
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And when he was casting his female leads, Ameen looked towards the undisputed queen of the modern romcom. He says: "I was obsessed with getting my two leading ladies like Julia Roberts in My Best Friend's Wedding and Julia Roberts in Notting Hill. That magic from them both. They both brought that."
The film plays with Christmas movie tropes
One of the best moments in the trailer for Boxing Day is a scene involving grand declarations on a series of placards, nodding to Andrew Lincoln's infamous scene from Richard Curtis romcom Love Actually. Ameen says viewers can "expect more" nods to other romcom classics in his movie.
"I love those tropes that make you feel good and that are nostalgic, but taking those from a new angle and having a modern spin on it. It's fun to play around with that," he says.
Ameen says he's proud to be working in the film industry at a time when creators from more diverse backgrounds can get the opportunity to subvert tropes, while also telling a compelling story. "I'm very excited about it getting made and at this period in my life," he adds.
"I'm in my mid-thirties and I have got so many stories to tell. We're in this historical moment as Brits, period, and artistic Brits around the world. I feel very proud to be part of that collection of people."
Boxing Day will be released in UK cinemas in December 2021.
Watch: Aml Ameen discusses his work in Yardie