”Football, Factories or Prison”: How ONEFOUR Is Shifting Australian Stories

onefour documentary netflix

In 2019, drill music landed down under and quickly captivated Australia’s music scene. The hip-hop subgenre — which originated in the south of Chicago with acts like Chief Keef and Lil Reese — is known for its gritty, explicit storytelling and raw energy. But in Australia, drill music is synonymous with Western Sydney group ONEFOUR and its members J Emz, YP, Lekks, Spenny and Celly. ONEFOUR’s lyricism and affinity for using their natural accents on their tracks quickly skyrocketed the group’s popularity. Soon enough, the five young Pacific Islander men from Mount Druitt gained global recognition.

Now, the group’s Netflix documentary, ONEFOUR: Against All Odds, is here. Filmed over four years, the documentary explores the group’s rise to fame, their struggles, and their efforts to change their lives in the face of prejudice. In his debut feature film, director Gabriel Gasparinatos uses ONEFOUR’s discography to create themed vignettes that frame the group’s most compelling — and controversial — moments. The overall work is an inspiring and emotional look at the musical act’s response to modern day censorship.

Following the global premiere of ONEFOUR: Against All Odds at SXSW Sydney, Gasparinatos and producer Erin Moy sat down with The Latch to discuss the film, ONEFOUR’s impact, and the group’s ongoing struggles with the police.

Strike Force Raptor Vs ONEFOUR: Over Policing and Censorship in Modern Australia

At its core, Against All Odds is a deep dive into ONEFOUR’s everyday battle against Strike Force Raptor, a section of NSW’s police force that generally target groups and persons involved with organised crime — more specifically, “terrorism suspects or organised motorcycle gangs”. For years, the NSW police have impeded upon ONEFOUR’s ability to perform, not just in NSW, but across the country. In the film, police spokespeople put this down to the possibility that ONEFOUR’s lyrics may incite violence.

“The idea was to get onto it quickly before it escalated,” Former Raptor Squad Commander, Deb Wallace, says in the film.

However, the unit’s methods involve raiding the homes of ONEFOUR’s families and heavy surveillance of group members’ movements in a manner that’s reminiscent of the censorship and suppression of free speech experienced by rap act N.W.A. in the late ’80s and early ’90s.

While Against All Odds features interviews with both ONEFOUR members and NSW police, the documentary didn’t bring the two groups any closer to any kind of resolution. Speaking with The Latch, producer Erin Moy shared a glimpse of the discourse from behind the scenes.

“It was really important to share both sides,” Moy said. “And unfortunately, we learned that no clear conversations had been had between both sides.”

Moy said that while “a few meetings” have been attempted between ONEFOUR and police, it has “never fully played out”.

“Anytime [ONEFOUR have] attempted that conversation in the past, the police just told them to change their lyrics and it’s a simple as that,” Gasparinatos added. “I think it’s really disappointing and hopefully, I’m sure the work of Thelma or Esky or various public community leaders is gonna be able to build that bridge between — as they say in the film — young people and police.”

The Tension Between ONEFOUR and NSW Police Continues

The police presence at the premiere of the documentary only solidified the reality of the group’s day-to-day experience.

“It’s quite normal for us to go through all of the police pressure, and everything that was going on. For us, we just got used to it. So I wasn’t surprised,” ONEFOUR’s Spenny said in a post-premiere interview.

On Creating Trust With ONEFOUR Despite Past Media Coverage

As ONEFOUR’s career has risen, so has the group’s public profile in the media. In Against All Odds, Culture Editor Osman Faruqi notes his concern about some of the media coverage. In a talking head interview, he expresses concern that some publications will publish articles that perpetuate negative stereotypes about Western Sydney and “young Islander men”.

Gasparinatos said it was important to do things differently for Against All Odds.

“They’d been been burnt by media in the past,” Gasparinatos told The Latch. “They’ve been burnt by a big, broad cross section of institutions across Australia.

“For all they’re concerned — we could be trying to do an A Current Affairs to them — a piece to burn them.

As they went into the filming of Against All Odds, Gasparinatos said that in order to build trust with the group, they made sure to let the members lead the way.

“We were constantly guided by their voice,” he said.

onefour against all odds netflix (3)Getty Images/Brendan Thorne

The result, Moy said, is a documentary that goes beyond “grabby headlines” to get to the real “context and backstory” behind ONEFOUR and its members. Crediting the group’s openness to reflect and willingness to share these deeper stories, Moy said that their trust allowed them to tell a side of the story that hadn’t been explored or seen in mainstream Australian media before.

How ONEFOUR are Changing Western Sydney Stereotypes on a Global Platform

“Growing up in Mount Druitt, there was only like, three options for Islanders. Either footy, the factory or a life of crime,” ONFOUR member Spenny says in Against All Odds.

In another scene, YP recalls the media attention his suburb got as he was growing up.

“If they [the news] ever spoke about Mount Druitt, it was just negative,” he says, noting that it was usually a story about crime or violence.

Now, ONEFOUR: Against All Odds is streaming on Netflix, the largest streaming platform in the world. It’s an important moment for Western Sydney that goes beyond the group’s success in the music industry. It’s a story that also shines a spotlight on their perseverance to overcome racial and geographical biases that still exist within contemporary society. 

The group’s experience with over-policing isn’t over. Still, their recognition from world renowned artists like Skepta, A$AP Ferg and The Kid Laroi has actively contributed to the shifting stigmas surrounding greater Western Sydney.

Gasparinatos hopes that having Against All Odds streaming on Netflix will be a catalyst for more “positive attention” to “an area that historically hasn’t received that”.

It also shines a much needed spotlight on the initiatives like Street University and creatives like Hau Lātūkefu, Ian Escandor and Ricky Simandjuntak from the wider community. Each of them invested faith and resources into the group, and Against All Odds is a powerful account of what can happen when people take interest in people’s potential, rather than their mistakes.

ONEFOUR: Against All Odds is a story of community, overcoming adversity and reinvention. You can stream it now on Netflix.

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