How Rapman made Netflix’s best new show (with help from UK rap don Ghetts)

'Supacell', out today, blends Black British culture with superhero thrills

“I‘ve never seen a show where south London is represented in the way I know it,” says Andrew Onwubolu, aka film director, screenwriter and musician Rapman. He’s behind Supacell, a new Netflix series that follows five ordinary Black south Londoners as they unexpectedly develop superpowers and must team up.

“This is an education,” continues Rapman. “For families in America, Africa, or Europe who want to know what south London is like, watch Supacell. Take away the powers, that’s south London.”

It’s a world that the Deptford-born multi-hyphenate knows well. In recent years, he’s achieved mainstream success for his thoughtful, emotive depiction of conflicts and characters played out across the landscapes of south London. The success of his cult YouTube drama Shiro’s Story led to the creation of his 2019 feature directorial debut Blue Story, a blockbuster starring Micheal Ward and Stephen Odubola which grossed £4.7 million and won Best Film and Best Actor for Micheal Ward at the 2020 NME Awards. In 2022, he was awarded an MBE for services to music and drama.

Representing Black South London

Netflix's Supacell.
Netflix’s ‘Supacell’. CREDIT: Netflix


Rapman’s new Netflix series tells the story of five Black South Londoners, all living completely different lives. Sabrina is a talented nurse vying for a promotion; Rodney a charismatic small-time weed dealer; Michael a down-to-earth delivery driver planning to propose to his partner; Andre a hard-working father whose criminal record is impacting his job prospects; and Tazer is an estate kid wrapped up in gang warfare. As their lives are sketched out through vivid, cinematic shots of south London spots — touring the cafes, bars and blocks of Peckham, Camberwell and Lewisham — just one thread begins connecting these individuals: they have all started developing mind-boggling superpowers.

“It was important to see the Black experience from many different angles,” says Rapman. “A woman trying to excel in her career but feeling like the colour of her skin might be holding her back, a father trying to provide for his son, a man who’s happy in life with a woman he loves… Someone like Michael is very different from someone like Rodney, and someone like Rodney is very different from someone like Sabrina.”

The ace up the sleeve

Rapman enlists a talented cast to deliver his wide-ranging portrayal of life in the UK capital, with Tosin Cole (Doctor Who, 61st Street), Eric Kofi Abrefa (Blue Story, BMF), Calvin Demba (The Rig, Life) and Adelayo Adedayo (The Responder, Timewasters) all starring. He also has an ace up his sleeve. In Supacell, stalwart UK rapper and MOBO Pioneer Award winner Ghetts turns his hand to acting as an icy, menacing villain called “Crazy”, freshly released from prison and instantly immersed back in a world of violent crime. Ghetts, aka Justin Clarke, previously starred in 2018 crime thriller The Intent 2 but Supacell represented a completely new challenge, and he was determined to show his commitment to the role.

“I felt like I was starting fresh here. I’m new to acting so I knew there would be a question mark over why,” he admits. “Because of that, I wanted to execute it super well. I never want to be mediocre, so once I say yes to something I’m all the way in.” His first appearance on the show (at the climax of episode two) is powerful; emerging from a crowd of bodies and draped in a black Avirex leather jacket, he pulls two gleaming silver pistols and directs them at Tazer. He instantly has the young protagonist quaking in his boots.

“It’s a dope intro,” says Rapman. “But we didn’t get him in there just to shoot guns. His character is very technical.” And crucially, his ability to capture the nuances of the role was enhanced significantly by the detailed advice of the show’s director.

“Raps is very good at communicating what he wants,” says Ghetts. “The instructions were clear and I tapped in. It was speaking to me in musical form, in terms of certain cadences from the character, certain ways to deliver things. Saying the same sentence in a hundred different ways, like I do musically. It’s amazing to see how one part of creation can rub off on another part of creation — I stopped making my album (‘On Purpose, With Purpose‘) to do Supacell, and then when I went back to the studio I was tapping into emotion much quicker.”

Showing London is “a vibe”

Netflix's Supacell.
Netflix’s ‘Supacell’ is streaming now. CREDIT: Netflix


Ghetts’ character is at the heart of the crime world represented in Supacell, but this tense, suffocating underground setting is just one aspect of the show. The Netflix series is cinematic, blockbuster material, with ambitious shots, dazzling special effects, and clear parallels with the Marvel and DC universes that Rapman has been devouring since he was young.

“I’m a massive fan of DC and Marvel. I was a nerd when it came to that stuff,” he says. “But I felt like no one from my background was represented in those worlds. It was important to have representation of myself and my background, but I also didn’t want it to look like it’s set in one country. How we’ve graded it, you don’t see no UK shows graded or lit like that. Most of our shows are grey and moody because that’s how London is. I wanted that feeling of darkness when it’s right but I also wanted to show that London is a vibe.”

Rapman also wanted to add layers of complexity and personal conflict to each of his south London superheroes; some develop powers that create far more problems than they solve, while others are forced to confront their moral shortcomings in unprecedented focus. When sketching out his detailed “rule sheet” denoting the limits and parameters of each power, it was all about providing the necessary forces to ask serious questions of characters like Tazer, whose power comes with a dark potential for violence — while also ensuring that “you don’t make them invincible”.

This knack for deep character exploration is a hallmark of the narratives of previous Rapman projects like Blue Story and Shiro’s Story. Wrapped up in a colourful, authentic image of south London and reworked with a touch of superhero magic, it makes for a fresh, engaging watch. “There are many flavours to the UK,” says Rapman. “With Supacell, I wanted to make the best version of an all-Black sci-fi show… and I wanted to make it look big.”

‘Supacell’ is available to stream on Netflix now


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