Black Power: A British Story Of Resistance
- Brian Donaldson
- 25 March 2021
Largely familiar but still piercing feature-length documentary about racism and resistance
In the late 1960s, the owner, staff and customers of a Caribbean restaurant in west London became so fed up and enraged of constant police harassment that they took their protests onto the streets. The resultant rioting and violence led to the chaotic High Court trial of seven men and two women (five in total were acquitted, with the remaining four sentenced for lesser offences). This story takes up a large chunk of the 90-minute documentary, Black Power: A British Story Of Resistance. If it all sounds a little familiar, that's probably because you saw Mangrove, the first part of Steve McQueen's Small Axe film season from last year, dedicated to the Black experience in London.
Another story may also resonate, that of Michael X, a significant figure of the early British Black Power movement, but who is eventually outed as a charlatan, later convicted and executed in Port Of Spain for murder. That tale was told, with some of the exact same footage, in Adam Curtis' Can't Get You Out Of My Head docu-series from February. And does anyone still need reminding of one shamefully racist election campaign run by the Conservatives in 1964 or of Enoch Powell's Rivers Of Blood speech four years later?
This film may suffer from a potential déjà vu but it's no less damning of the racism prevalent in British society and within its institutions in the post-war period. For this documentary's purposes, the 1960s is the focus as immigration became a fierce battleground in British politics and Black resistance movements rose up. Narrated by Daniel Kaluuya, the film works best when it hears from a variety of interviewees, figures such as poet Linton Kwesi Johnson and writer/activist Farrukh Dhondy, and photojournalist Charlie Phillips, while the late, great Darcus Howe is shown in media dispatches. It winds up on a gloomy note, with Black Liberation Front activist Zainab Abbas bemoaning the fact that at the age of 70, she is still asked to identify where she 'comes from' despite being born in the UK: 'I don't think it's got better, I really don't.'
BBC Two, Thursday 25 March, 9pm.