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The film that stood up to racism on the streets of Britain

RADICAL: A scene from Blacks Britannica

BLACKS BRITANNICA (1978) is a classic film but, sadly, it is not very well-known among the current generation of political and cultural activists in Britain.

The British Film Institute (BFI) screened it on 28 January as part of its African Odysseys season to a full house – and it could have easily accommodated all those it turned away in a bigger space.

The screening was followed by a lively Q&A with a panel that included chair of the Institute of Race Relations, Colin Prescod, women’s liberation officer at Westminster University, Ethel Tambudzai, and Saqib Deshmukh and Kunle Olulode, both of Voice4Change England.

Directed and produced by the late David Koff and Musindo Mwinyipembe for Boston’s WGBH radio station as part of their weekly series, World, the one-hour documentary tells the story of the African Diaspora in Britain through the narratives and struggles of the black community in Manchester, Bradford and London.

It features political, cultural and scholar activists such as Jessica Huntley, Kath Locke, Colin Prescod, Darcus Howe, and John La Rose, and groups of militant young Africans in those three cities.

ACTIVIST: Darcus Howe in 1981

The film is a representation of the revolutionary potential of Africans in 1970s Britain in the struggle against racism and fascism, and for equal rights and human liberation.

No talk about race awareness and cultural diversity here.

No attempt to join the British establishment in portraying the black presence and its difculties in exercising social control over it as a clash between first generation elders and their rebellious, authority averse, rudderless offspring.

INTENTIONS

The film addresses head on the issues which the state and those believing in its benign intentions to see and describe through totally different lenses.

These include the post-war racialisation of immigration and the trope that Britain cannot expect to have good race relations unless it is seen to be tough on immigration. There was also the issue of police brutality and abuse of power as they wage a veritable war on black youth; the displacement of settled communities shunting them into soulless housing estates on brownfield sites. And then there’s the structural and systemic production of disproportionate black youth unemployment and the wanton criminalisation of the visible black youth presence on the streets as a consequence of such high levels of unemployment.

HARASSMENT

The film focuses on the targeting and harassment of black youths by the police as they go to and from youth clubs (remember them?) and leisure and sporting activities, and the courts’ unashamed expression of their default position – i.e; that the testimony of the police is always more credible than that of black defendants, especially unemployed black youths. An official of the British Information Service in Washington described the film as ‘dangerous’, and called on WGBH to give the BIS ‘equal time’ – presumably to present alternative views of the British black presence.

The film can be viewed on BFI Player.

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