Virtual Screening Room: White Riot

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2019 dir Rubika Shah w/Red Saunders, Dennis Bovell, Mykaell Riley, The Clash, Sham 69, Steel Pulse • 84 min

Britain, 1976. The National Front, a far-right and fascist political party, is gaining strength as politicians like the odious Enoch Powell push a xenophobic agenda. Outraged by a racist speech from guitar god Eric Clapton, music photographer Red Saunders writes an open letter to the music press, calling for rock and roll to become a force against racism. Flooded with responses, Red bands together with like-minded creatives to form Rock Against Racism (RAR) and a fanzine, Temporary Hoarding.

RAR organized demonstrations and promoted live gigs that brought together acts from the burgeoning punk scene with reggae bands from the flourishing Black music community to encourage unity. Meanwhile, speaking directly to the youth, Temporary Hoarding reported stories and issues that the mainstream British media ignores. They gave a voice to the voiceless. Despite acts of violence and threats from The National Front and others, RAR spread virally across the UK and into Europe and the US, becoming an international grassroots youth movement that still resonates today.

WHITE RIOT focuses on the birth of this inspiring organization and their early successes leading up to the landmark Carnival Against Racism on April 30, 1978 when 100,000 people marched six miles from Trafalgar Square to the East End of London (a National Front hotspot) for an outdoor concert at Victoria Park featuring The Clash, Steel Pulse, X-Ray Spex, and more. WHITE RIOT is about a moment in time when music changed the world… when a generation challenged the status quo. It’s Woodstock meets the March on Washington, punk-style.

“An excellent brief documentary about a heroic grassroots political movement whose importance reveals itself more clearly in retrospect with every year that passes.”
– Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian

“WHITE RIOT left me with a sense of hope that I haven’t felt for a long time. The barrage of bad news that follows us at every waking hour, and the dominance of racist rhetoric, can make us feel powerless. But if there’s any one message to be taken from Shah’s film, it’s the belief that if a group of punks and reggae fans could unite to fight back against hatred in the 70s, anyone could do the same now.”
– Stephanie Phillips, British Film Institute