Sundance 2024: Kneecap Celebrates Native Irish Language, the Culture and the Women Who Preserve It

Irish-Language hip hop trio Kneecap took Sundance by storm in their debut, self-titled film, and reveled in celebrating their heritage. 

Director Rich Peppiatt was inspired to tell the story of riotous hip-hop trio Kneecap from his first encounter with their music. Drawn to the group’s raw authenticity and passion, the filmmaker touched base with Kneecap’s management team for months, finally landing a meeting through their booking agent to begin crafting Kneecap, which made its Sundance debut over the weekend and was purchased by Sony Pictures Classics, marking the first major sale of the 2024 Sundance Film Festival.

The film is a rowdy and passionate fictional re-telling of the formation of Kneecap, as portrayed (á la Eminem’s “8-Mile”) by the trio themselves: Moglai Bap, Mo Chara, and the ever-elusive DJ Provai, finally making his public debut sans balaclava. Supported by Michael Fassbender, who plays Bap’s fictional exiled IRA father, and a host of dynamite characters, the crew brings to life a fun-filled, drug-fueled and deeply emotional story of pride in identity, in heritage, and in language. 

A big strength among those characters were the women. From Liam Óg’s racy protestant bedroom partner to Naioise’s West Belfast strong mother, and from DJ Provai’s activist wife to a fully bad-cop detective, the female forces in the film were ones to be reckoned with. 

The cast themselves were impressed with the writing behind each character. “They are all very varied, different and rich in their own ways, and are beautifully intertwined into the film,” says Fionnula Flaherty, who plays the Irish-language activist wife of JJ (DJ Provai). 

Jessica Reynolds, who plays fictional Kneecap member Liam Óg’s super-sexual love interest Georgia, wholeheartedly agrees. “It was terrifying for me to go in and do a role like this, because she is so fucking raunchy and mad,” she says. “In the past, if women do roles like these they could be typecast, or judged for presenting their bodies on screen. But genuinely this was the most freeing role. I am so glad I did it–I hope it helps people accept those type of people, because those types of women fucking exist and deserve to exist without judgment.” 

In the Q&A, director Rich Peppiatt shared that the depth of the female characters was critical to the story’s development. He explained that they didn’t want the women to merely serve the boys in the story, but rather to have their own narrative arcs. 

The emotional connection to women runs deep for Kneecap, as evidenced as much by their performance in the film as by their commentary afterward. 

“Obviously the Irish language is a growing community, but there is a silent part of that community that is the mothers and women who never get the credit they deserve for raising their kids and speaking Irish to their kids,” says Moglai Bap. “Language can only be rebuilt through families, and the script really represents this. We are very happy the women were represented properly in this movie–without them, none of us would be speaking Irish.” 

“That’s why it’s called the ‘mother tongue,’” adds a balaclava-clad DJ Provai. 

Irish mothers were honored in the soundtrack as well as the script, largely thanks to the influence of composer Michael ‘Mikey’ J. Asante, who joined the project to bring the beats. “He really just got the vibe right away,” Peppiatt says. “There are not a lot of composers who come from the hip hop world, but he came in and brought not only heavy beats and the tones of tribal vibe harking back to folklore than ran through everything in the film, but he also did such a good job of bringing real emotion to the soundtrack.” 

For example, a bespoke composition of Orbital’s “Belfast” uses the sounds of the film’s resident mother, Dolores, singing to represent her power as she is leaving the house for the first time to support her son. “We actually seeded her voice in the score through the film, so she is a sonic presence throughout,” Peppiatt shares. “She is always present through the film, even though she doesn’t hardly leave the house–because mums are always there.”

All in all, the film was a raucous success with the audience. It’s the kind of project you can tell was a true collaboration among friends, with the perfect doses of ad-lib humor and fervor for a cause that only comes from a truly united and dedicated team. We’re calling it here: if you haven’t heard of Kneecap yet, you certainly will. Hold on to your pints, lads, because Kneecap is coming. 

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