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Review: Witness the Legacy of the British Black Power Movement in ‘Black Power: A British Story of Resistance’

Review: Witness the Legacy of the British Black Power Movement in ‘Black Power: A British Story of Resistance’

Amazon Prime Video’s Black Power: A British Story of Resistance casts the spotlight on the revolutionary movement in British history so often overlooked. Directed by George Amponsah (The Hard Stop) and narrated by Daniel Kaluuya (Judas and the Black Messiah), the documentary chronicles the setbacks and triumphs of the British Black Power movement.

The film features interviews with activists, artists, and former police officers, including Neil Kenlock, Farrukh Dhondy, Winston Trew, Leila Hassan Howe, Zainab Abbas, Charlie Phillips, Linton Kwesi Johnson, and Peter Edrich. It’s produced by Steve McQueen (12 Years a Slave), Helen Bart (Small Axe), James Rogan (Stephen: The Murder that Changed a Nation) and Soleta Rogan (The Craftsmen’s Dinner with Michel Roux Jr.) for Rogan Productions, Tracey Scoffield (Muhammad Ali’s Greatest Fight), Lammas Park, Turbine Studios, and Amazon Studios.

Black Power: A British Story of Resistance recounts the events leading up to Steve McQueen’s docuseries Uprising. In the 1960s and ’70s, Black and Asian communities were openly discriminated against in Britain. Children of immigrants were being sent to “special” schools for the “educationally subnormal” (ESN), a label created to push Black children out of mainstream schools, a devastating story covered in McQueen’s other documentary Subnormal: A British Scandal.

The Civil Rights Movement in the United States inspired the Black British community to rise up and create a movement of their own. The increase in police harassment and brutality, as well as the relentless discrimination and violence at the hands of far-right groups like the Teddy Boys, had the Black community ready to fight back. For the first time on screen, the former young activists tell what it was like during that time.

For Winston Trew, his first experience in Britain was racism and violence. After migrating from Jamaica, he was the only Black boy in his new school. On his first day, he was punched in the face by a white boy. Likewise, Zainab Abbas talks about the indescribable amount of anger she felt from the lack of opportunities available to young Black people. She admits, “I was never a fan of Martin Luther King’s ‘turn the other cheek,’” but she was “attracted to people like Malcolm X.”

Notable American figures from the Civil Rights Movement, Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, and Stokely Carmichael, all visited the UK in the mid-’60s to show their support for the British Black community. Malcolm X and Carmichael both encouraged rising up in self-defense against discrimination, especially from the police.

After all of the horrible things we’ve witnessed in history, it is still shocking to hear about blatantly racist politicians like Conservatives Peter Griffiths and Enoch Powell, who encouraged racist culture in the country. The film shows archive news footage of on-the-street interviews with white British people spouting the same “immigrants are taking our jobs” rhetoric we hear today.

With inspiring figures like Altheia Jones-LeCointe from the Black Panther Movement, and Roy Sawh from the Speaker’s Corner in Hyde Park, as well as controversial figures like Michael “Michael X” de Freitas, the British Black Power movement began to form. The film highlights the parties established during this time, like the United Colored People’s Association (UCPA), the British Black Panthers, the Fasimbas, the Black Liberation Front, and many more.

The police regularly raided Black parties. One former policeman tearfully recounts the time he witnessed another officer beating a Black man for no reason. You can see the immense guilt he holds for not interfering. He says, “I was kind of ashamed I was there, but I didn’t say anything…I didn’t have the courage to do that.”

The Mangrove was the “unofficial community center.” The film features archive footage of the restaurant at the height of its popularity along with owner and activist Frank Crichlow. The establishment was regularly raided by police, to the point that some patrons stopped coming altogether. The community organized a demonstration demanding, “Hands Off the Mangrove.” A peaceful protest (unsurprisingly) turned violent by police led to arrests and the Trial of the Mangrove Nine in 1971. It became a historic victory because the judge actually recognized the racism within the police department. 

Other notable moments in British Black history included in the film are the killing of Kelso Cochrane in 1959, the Oval Four arrests and convictions in 1972, the Spaghetti House Siege in 1975 (a particularly confusing event), and the many iterations of the Race Relations Act that continued to exempt police from anti-racism legislation.

Does anybody remember learning about these prominent figures and crucial events in British Black history in school? It’s maddening that this entire movement has been overlooked for decades. There are a lot of people, protests, and parties involved, which can be a bit overwhelming to digest, but each of them is vital.

Black Power: A British Story of Resistance is truly a history lesson we need. Many of these important people have been forgotten or are completely unknown, but this documentary honors their legacies by shining a light on them. You’ll be surprised at just how much we didn’t know.

With the Black Lives Matter movement today, it’s important to remember where we started, what we won, and what we lost. Linton Kwesi Johnson says, “I think the youngsters in the Black Lives Matter movement need to appraise themselves of what came before, so that they can draw some lessons from the battles we fought and won.”

Black Power: A British Story of Resistance premiered on BBC Two on March 25. The documentary debuts on Amazon Prime Video on September 17. 

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