Rapper and filmmaker Rapman tells IBC365 about making his sci-fi drama Supacell with Netflix, emulating Ryan Coogler and why “anything can happen in a Rapman show.”

What if a group of strangers living in South London one day discovered they had superpowers? That’s the setup for the new Netflix sci-fi drama Supacell, written and directed by local hero Rapman who says this is just the beginning.


Behind the Scenes: SupaCell

“Supercell season one is the prequel,” he says. “That’s what I tell anybody. It’s literally my Batman Begins. The show could have started in season two but the decision we made was to take it back to the beginning about where it all started.”

Rapman, the alias of rapper and filmmaker Andrew Onwubolu, burst onto YouTube with dramatic tales of South London street life in Shiro’s Story and Blue Story. He converted the latter into a 2019 feature film which was the subject of headline notoriety when Vue Cinemas temporarily shut screenings following a machete incident in Birmingham. This was blown up into ‘riots’ by some press, condemned as institutionally racist by others.

“I don’t want to get pigeonholed as just a ghetto writer,” Rapman said in 2019 in the ‘making of’ film accompanying the Blue Story release.

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In that 10-minute short, which is available on iPlayer, you can see the genesis of Supacell happening in real time.

On the top deck of a bus travelling around Southeast London with Blue Story cast members Rapman spins an idea. “I would like to do a sci-fi one day like Misfits [2009-12 E4 comedy-drama about young offenders in South London gaining superpowers],” he says.

“Imagine if someone where we came from gets powers.”

His actors brainstorm what superpowers they would like if they could mutate one gene. One says reading minds, another wants telekinesis, another suggests teleportation. Rapman says he wants to have super speed.

“I’m gonna go home and start writing this movie tonight,” he jokes.

But he wasn’t joking. That’s what he did.

“The idea was in the back of my mind but that was the first time I ever said it out loud,” the 35-year-old creator tells IBC365. “I started writing Supacell as a film, but it just was too rich, too full to fit into a two-hour window and I just extended it into what we’ve got now. That bus ride was 100% literally the beginning of where this started. It’s crazy. The minute I spoke out it started forming.”

Creative control

He’d first met with Netflix in 2018 before Blue Story came out and had pitched them another script.


Netflix’s SupaCell

“That story didn’t land but it built a good relationship with the network,” he says. “So down the line we met up again and they asked if I had other ideas. I kind of mentioned Supacell and I remember seeing the reaction on their faces like ‘That sounds really good, can you tell us more?’ It just built from there. It never even got a chance to get seen by anyone else because they literally snapped it up.”

The six-hour series represents a significant uptick in budget complete with VFX and the latest Arri Alexa 35 cameras.

“We didn’t really have any money for Blue Story,” he says. “This definitely has a bigger budget. I enjoyed the green screen stuff, learning things I’ve never done before. When you’ve got more money, you get more toys, you get more equipment but you’ve also got a lot more departments to manage.

“When I was doing my indies, I was playing a part in everything, but as showrunner on a show this size you can stretch yourself a bit thin. Luckily, I had good people I could delegate to.”

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They include lead cinematographer Aaron Reid who says: “Every reference Raps gave us was American. It was Marvel and DC, Snowfall, BMF and The Wire.


Behind the Scenes: SupaCell

“The idea was to keep it grounded - until it isn’t,” adds Reid. “The opening scene is very stylised and hints at what is to come. Then we revert to a drama that looks and feels normal. The way their superpowers are shown is exactly how Raps envisioned it.”

The micro budgets for Blue Story and Shiro’s Story necessitated guerilla-style filmmaking on South London streets but complete creative control. The director says Netflix also gave him the freedom to tell the story he wanted.

“I won 99% of the battles, basically,” adds Rapman. “Whatever you like as a viewer of this show I can put my hands up and say, ‘yeah that’s me’ and whatever you don’t like on the show I have to put my hands up as well. I couldn’t blame Netflix if I wanted to because it would be a lie.

He adds, “As a creator, they support you and help you to sculpt [the story] but the creative decisions about where the TV show goes is on me.”

On location

Supacell is not only set in South London but is filmed on location in Deptford, Peckham and Thamesmead. Rapman is keen that an international audience gets to see the places where he grew up in a more positive light than news headlines might suggest.


Netflix’s Supacell

“That’s the biggest thing for me because I want people to really know what South London is like- that it isn’t just the one world. It’s seeing how our streets look, what our food shops look like, how we talk, the energy in the street.

“I was born and raised in South London and I really want people to see the truth of it. I don’t feel like I’ve seen a TV show that is so unapologetically South. It was really important that it didn’t come across doom and gloomy like a lot of shows in the UK. I wanted it to be colourful and for people to really know how vibrant South London is.”

It’s still not the norm and therefore noteworthy that a British show of this size has a predominantly black cast.

“I don’t know if a show like this would have got made 10 years ago, even five years ago,” he says. “But it’s not the only recent TV show that has a majority black cast. So for anyone to say [diversity] is not getting better would be a liar. Is it where it should be? No, there should be more. But it’s progress. A step forward is better than a step back.”

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Anything can happen in a Rapman show

Rapman admires director Ryan Coogler whose career went from gritty indie drama Fruitvale Station to Marvel blockbuster Black Panther. Supacell seems to merge both of those elements into one.


Netflix’s Supacell

“When I look at Coogler he made Fruitville Station, which I could call my Blue Story and then he made Creed and that became massive,” says Rapman. “If Supercell does what Creed does, I’ll be very happy! Coogler kept his original storytelling, he made smart choices, and went and adapted a comic book. I’d love to emulate his success.”

It’s clear he hopes Supacell is his Hollywood calling card.

“I think it’s important that storytellers have their signature, their voice,” he says. “You watch a Scorsese film and you know he likes to do narration and have stand-out characters. I think in Supercell you get to hear my voice and get to know my style.

“If you want me on your project you know what type of story I’m gonna tell. I like to put heart in, I like to make the stakes high, I like to make it funny.

“Some people might not love it and others will love it, but you’re gonna know that’s a Rapman type of show and a Rapman type of story.

He adds, “Anything can happen in a Rapman show. We’re not PG where everything’s gonna be all right in the end.”

Authentic performances

One of the main characters in Supacell, a gang leader called Tazer, is played by actor Josh Tedeku with an on-screen charisma that recalls that of British-born Hollywood star Daniel Kaluuya (Get Out). He has since appeared in A Town Called Malice and Boarders but Supacell was Tedeku’s first main role.

“That character was very hard to cast. We saw every young male actor we could think of from the age of like 17-27. At one point Tazer was going to be a 25-year-old playing a teenager. We looked at everyone. We saw so many potential Tasers I remember sitting down with my casting director [Isabella Odoffin] wondering who can do this. Everyone was coming with such a stereotypical way of what that character should be.”

Rapman liked what he saw from Tedeku’s audition tape. “He was even better in person. He had this calmness and stillness. The gang in Supacell are your typical street kids. But Tazer is more thoughtful. He doesn’t raise his voice. We needed someone who understood that. There aren’t many actors like Josh who have that emotional range at only 19.”

He coaxes performances out of a cast of unknown or inexperienced actors by bringing them into the process. “When I sit down with my actors and going through a scene with them, I’ll refer to the story and ask what would you say in this situation? I know you’re not the character, but would you speak like that? Would you raise your voice or would you be calm? I want to get them to perform that character as natural as possible. You can call Supacell a sci-fi but it’s really a character-driven show so you need to understand how these people talk. You need to understand their dialogue, their mannerisms so you can connect with the audience.”

Season 2 lined up

Back on the bus in 2019, Rapman said he would love to possess the power of being super-fast because he then wouldn’t be late for anything.


Netflix’s Supacell

Fast forward to 2024 and he says the superpower he most wants now is to be able to teleport.

“With teleportation, I can do exactly what I could do with a super speed only easier. I don’t have to run or burn calories. I don’t have to zigzag through buses and trees.”

He demonstrates this in episode 5 of Supacell where a character with superspeed and a character with teleportation skills race off against one another.

Supacell may start out grounded in Peckham but it doesn’t look like it will end there. The sci-fi elements of the storyline could see future episodes going forward or backwards in time, and jumping to any location

“This season is about getting to know the characters and getting emotionally invested,” Rapman says. “It is the beginning of a big world. I know what I want to do for seasons two and three but it’s out of my control. Hopefully I will get a season 2 and I can really get going.”

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