Culture & Arts Entertainment Featured Reviews TV & Film

Grime MC Skepta’s Tribal Mark: A Cinematic Universe in the Making

Review by Damilare Williams-Shires

The directorial debut of renowned Grime MC and budding Renaissance Man Joseph Adenuga Jr, known professionally as Skepta, Tribal Mark, is an ambitious and gripping 24-minute short film that provocatively introduces the world to a future cinematic universe, soon to be populated by anti-heroes and action stars of the Black Secret Service. Michael B. Jordan, please keep your phone on; Skepta might have a job for you.

The short introduces us to the first anti-hero of this new world, the titular ‘Mark’, a troubled young man who immigrates to the UK from Nigeria as a child and eventually becomes a hitman associated with the aforementioned Black Secret Service. Three actors portray Mark at different points in his life, but the audience spends by far the most time with Jude Carmichael’s Teen Mark. Adult Mark is played by Adenuga.

The film’s first triumph is convincing the audience that these three people are the same—a sameness signalled by their distinctive facial scars, helped by the uncanny resemblance between Carmichael and Adenuga and cemented by those eyes. The distinctive look of dissociation in Mark’s eyes at any age is an effective character motif, at times relatable for reasons to be shortly discussed, and at times, unsettling. This is not only a testament to the three performers’ shared ability despite their relative inexperience; it also speaks to Adenuga’s clarity of vision as a director.


In an interview with Clash Music, Carmichael recounts Adenuga cueing the eyes on set, touting them as an essential nuance of the character, something the director would repeat in the Q&A I attended after seeing the film. Tribal Mark is an impressive display of character writing by a first-time filmmaker and an equally impressive display of diligence and facial acting from each of the three Marks.

Adenuga, like Skepta, has put his hand to directing music videos in the past. He co-directed the videos for his songs, Bullet From A Gun and No Security, and he co-directed Tribal Mark alongside Dwight Okechukwu, co-director of their production company, 1Plus1 Production. During the Q&A, when asked if he found the jump to directing a film at all difficult, the Renaissance Man spoke plainly, “I wouldn’t say it was difficult, no.” This comes as no surprise given his experience in bringing creative visions to life across a growing array of fields for the past 2 decades.

There have been a plethora of distinct and iconic music videos for his brand, MAINS London, and his upcoming Big Smoke Festival. This is a man used to bring every detail of his ideas to life, so it’s no real surprise that the film is audio-visually very impressive, with every scene formed with incredible care in all aspects: costume, lighting, score, cinematography, and editing.

The only defect I observed during the entire experience was a particular chase scene in a nightclub. It was difficult to follow because of the constantly flashing lights, though I realised even then that it was a deliberate choice made to convey the frantic confusion of the moment. I still felt that it undermined the scene.


Nonetheless, Adenuga’s attention to effective detail is on display throughout Tribal Mark. The writer-director has been very clear about the themes he wishes to explore. Speaking to the BBC, he said the film was about the “dissociation of an immigrant living in the UK.” And it quickly became clear to me that this dissociation is the spine of Mark’s character.

His eyes are often so vacant, even as he is constantly watching his surroundings. His internal monologue betrays how he feels: he does not truly know or care about his supposed friends, even his girlfriend, Simone, who assures her friends that the pair are in love. This dissociation – this simply not being there—inducts Mark into a fascinating canon of anti-heroes and potentially full-on villainous protagonists, though whether Mark fits into this category depends on who he’s up against in the feature-length version of the film.

These characters originate in the archetype dubbed ‘Literally Me’, and they have enjoyed massive success in recent years. One can’t throw a stone on TikTok without hitting an account devoted to posting edits of iconic Literally Me characters. There’s Christian Bale’s Patrick Bateman, Ryan Gosling’s K, and most interestingly, Joaquin Phoenix’s Joker, whom Adenuga has frequently cited as having been a direct influence on the creation of Mark.

During the Q&A, Adenuga repeated a sentiment he had earlier shared with the BBC, that he was fascinated by how the scripting and, crucially, Phoenix’s portrayal of the Joker, had fleshed him out beyond his own interpretation of him as just a Batman villain. The production showed us how he became the Joker—something Adenuga seeks to do with Mark.


But what else do Phoenix’s Joker, Mark, and Patrick Bateman have in common as Literally Me characters? The answer is simple: “Characters like Travis Bickle, the Driver, and Arthur Fleck (Phoenix’s Joker) are relatable and important because they represent troubled men dealing with trauma and mental illness in a detached society.”

Mark is unique and uniquely important because his troubles stem directly from his dissociative experience as an immigrant. This is something I found especially impactful as a young Black immigrant of mixed heritage trying to make a life for myself in the UK. Carmichael discussed bringing his own feelings of alienation to bear in his portrayal of Mark and opened up about how growing up in the UK as “one of 5 black kids in my school” and returning home to Zimbabwe only to find that he is seen there as “not really from Zimbabwe”, has left him constantly perplexed: “Where am I from and where do I belong?”.

The damage done by this phenomenon in Mark isn’t even subtextual analysis: part of the film’s opening is a quote discussing how the dissociative experience of immigrants puts them at greater risk of mental health issues. The fact that the audience gets to see Teen Mark’s descent into a life of crime is a unique take on the archetype. It left me feeling very thankful that Carmichael, as well as Simone’s actor Divine, executed their roles so brilliantly.

I hope the feature length gives them all the time they deserve to address all the carefully laid breadcrumbs and to complete this compelling portrait of Mark’s descent. During the climactic car scene, the two young leads give powerful expressions of harrowing, desperate emotion as the walls of their situation close in on them. The scene becomes even more impressive when you learn that this was the very first scene they filmed and their very first day on set together!


Following up with the two actors after the Q&A, I posed a question, “How does it feel to be playing these roles knowing things likely don’t end well? Mark has likely turned his back on his friends and his girl as an adult?” To which Carmichael responded with an infectiously excited look on his face (he had not considered that possibility), “Wait, you think he leaves his girl?”. Carmichael and Divine went on to say that they did not know much about the future directions the story would take but were enjoying the freedom to develop the characters as they saw fit. They were committed to doing the best they could. Such excitement and ambition to create strong performances is a recipe for success.

Allow me to quickly praise the very deliberate marketing and rollout strategy designed to generate investment for a feature-length film, rather than jumping straight into one. The marketing never suggests that it’s a short. During Q&A, some audience members expressed great surprise when the film ended as adult Mark entered fully into his dark glory.

A plate of pounded yam and egusi is in front of him. Next to it is a gun. Off-screen, a voice begs for their life. We hear a gunshot and the credits start to roll. Now I simply must go and watch the feature-length because I need to know what happens next.

An Afterword: Here are some of the questions from the intriguing trail of breadcrumbs the film leaves behind it, for which I need answers.

  1. Mark is referred to as Akin as a child in Nigeria. Did someone mispronounce his name one too many times, and he started going by Mark (half sarcasm)?
  2. Does losing his original name add to the disassociation that haunts him (totally serious)?
  3. Who was Mark speaking to on his secret phone?
  4. Who is Darker? How is he connected to Teen Mark and is that connection instrumental in Mark becoming a hitman?
  5. Where do Troy and Simone fit into Mark’s future? What becomes of them after the end of the short? Are they alive in the present day or has Mark abandoned them?
  • Damilare Williams-Shires is a Powerlifter, Powerlifting Coach and a Freelance Journalist

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.