"...a visually interesting and intellectually challenging documentary..."

Same As It Ever Was

(101720) White Riot is a strong and engaging new documentary that that explores the area in which politics and rock intersect. The film chronicles the anti-fascist Rock Against Racism movement which started in England in the 70s and spread across the globe. The film was made by Rubika Shaw, a promising new British film maker with talent to burn. The film is her feature debut, and it is an expansion of her 2017 short, White Riot: London. Shah has had her shorts screened at Sundance, Tribeca, Hot Docs, Berlin and other festivals to great acclaim. Shah expertly assembled and combined stills and familiar and never seen before documentary footage, with a recent interview with Red Saunders, the main instigator of the Rock Against Racism
movement. Most impressively she animates real pages from his fanzine and makes them come to life.

As punk was exploding in the UK (it was a much more popular phenomena there than in the USA) ,there was also a simultaneous and disturbing movement toward fascism within the punk movement and the wider culture. Punk rockers such as Siouxsie Sioux and Sid Vicious sometimes wore swastikas for ironic effect (they were not Nazis and never professed to adhere to the party’s beliefs) , but some of their fans might have misread it and and joined right wing, anti-immigrant groups.

Fascism also entered the mainstream media with the rise of The National Front (NF) and the controversial anti-immigrant politician, Enoch Powell. Rock guitarist, Eric Clapton helped put the spotlight on the group and the man. He outraged many when he gave an infamous, extremist and racist speech during a concert in which he told all foreigners to just leave. Ironically, Clapton, who deserves his acclaim for being one of the greatest ever guitarists, has often emulated and appropriated black culture and covered the songs of poor African American blues musicians. He also covered the anti-authoritarian Bob Marley “I Shot the Sherriff”, before supporting politicians that would oppress people of color that look like Marley.

Many rock fans were outraged by Clapton’s speech including Red Saunders, the famous rock photographer. Sanders wrote a letter to the biggest UK rock magazines, Melody Maker and New Musical Express (NME) which encouraged rockers and music fans to stand against the movement. Saunders and some associates founded the Temporary Hoarding fanzine, which is brought to life in this film. They also organized live events to raise money and increase awareness of their cause.

The movement culminated in the famous Rock Against Racism concert which assembled many of England’s greatest punk, new wave and Indy bands such as the Marxist post punk funk group The Gang of Four; political punks, Sham 69; the female led and anti consumerist punk group, X Ray Spex: the British reggae band Steel Pulse: and the gay anthem creating, Tom Robinson band.

For many the undisputed highlight was The Clash, who were one of the best and most critically acclaimed bands of the time. They played their classic anthem “White Riot, ” at the show which inspired the film’s title. But the song was not supporting white power or white nationalist groups, and was actually in opposition to their ideas. Clash members had said that they were hoping that poor white people would be inspired by black protest movements and emulate them.

Before the concert many anti-fascist groups marched in a unified protest. The police tried to discourage it and one policeman who was interviewed scoffed and said they would be lucky to get 50 people. In fact, it was an unqualified success and 80,000 attended. In contrast when the National Front had earlier decided to march through the racially mixed neighborhood, it was the first time since WWII that police used riot shields. But the press reported that the majority of the police supported the National Front. Two recent fictional films (Beats and last year’s Blinded by the Light) do a good job of covering the same era and some of the same incidents,

White Riot is a visually interesting and intellectually challenging documentary that is highly recommended. Although it takes place in 1970s England, the film is just as timely and more relevant than ever. Viewers will surely see many parallels with what is going on in the USA right now.

White Riot It is currently playing at the Music Box Theatre’s virtual theatre, see below for viewing information.

Directed & Written by:   Rukika Shah
Starring:   Red Saunders, Roger Huddle, Kate Webb
Released:   10/16/2020
Length:   80 minutes
Rating:   Unrated

You can view this movie at the at the Music Box's Virtual Theater beginning 10/16/20:

For more writings by Vittorio Carli go to www.artinterviews.org and www.chicagopoetry.org. His latest book "Tape Worm Salad with Olive Oil for Extra Flavor" is also available.

WHITE RIOT © 2020  Creative England
Review © 2020 Alternate Reality, Inc.