Focussing on race and racism in the UK, these docs to watch online cover recent events in British history, exploring stories behind the headlines.
Protests have gathered momentum across the UK in the last week, showing not just solidarity with the #BlackLivesMatter movement in the US, but calling out racisim in British society.
Last week we published a list of documentaries to watch online about civil rights and racism on both sides of the pond. We included George Amponsah’s The Hard Stop, which follows two friends of Mark Duggan in the years after his death, and The Stuart Hall Project, John Akomfrah’s study of the life and work of the cultural theorist – both are essential viewing.
There’s so much more to consider and to learn on our doorstep, so in the below list here we look exclusively at race and racism in the UK, and what it means to be black and British.
Handsworth Songs / John Akomfrah / 1986 / 59 mins
John Akomfrah’s first film as director, Handsworth Songs won seven international prizes including the Grierson award for best documentary.
An early example of an “essay” film, it tells the story of the aftermath of civil disturbances in the 1980s; its creative use of archive and music engages with Britain’s colonial past and the struggles of race and class.
The film was produced as part of The Black Audio Film Collective, of which John Akomfrah was a founding artist. Supported by Channel 4, and active from 1982 to 1998, the collective saw their role, according to Akomfrah, as putting on the table a number of questions to do with identity, cultural representation, alternative cultural and and aesthetic practices, in order to “find a way of legitimising black identities in this country.”
Watch Handsworth Songs on YouTube.
Blacks’ Britannica / PBS / 1978 / 56 mins
Made in 1978 by WGBH Boston, and never broadcast in this country, Blacks’ Britannica looks at the black British diaspora’s response to racism in Britain.
Presented from a black working class perspective, and including voices such as Darcus Howe and Colin Prescod, the film offers up an analysis of racism within the context of British history and the post-war crisis of the British economy.
As the director David Koff put it, the film “reflects the increasingly militant response within the black community to the continuing attacks upon it, both by the fascist elements on the street and by the state itself.”
The filmmakers fell out with WGBH over the final cut. In 2017 the BFI screened the director’s cut, followed by a lively panel which you can see here.
Watch Blacks’ Britannica on YouTube.
Stephen: The Murder that Changed a Nation / BBC / 2018 / 3 x 60-min episodes
This three-hour documentary series for the BBC examines the 19943 murder of 18 year-old Stephen Lawrence by a group of white teenage boys. What ensued was one of the longest, most complex and mishandled murder investigations in the history of the Metropolitan Police, allowing the suspected killers to evade justice for nearly two decades.
Directed by James Rogan and produced by Asif Kapadia, the series won two Grierson awards, with the judges noting that “the film skillfully captured society’s attitudes in the 1990s and is a timely reminder that institutional racism is still a real and ever present issue. This film got beyond the iconic image that we all know so well and introduced a young man as a human being rather than a symbolic statistic.”
Watch the three part series on Watch Documentaries.
Injustice / Ken Fero & Tariq Mehmood / 2001 / 98 mins
Between 1969 and 1999 over 1000 people died in police custody in Britain. Not one police officer was convicted. In this lacerating documentary, filmed over five years, the families of Joy Gardner, Shiji Lapite, Brian Douglas and Ibrahim Sey fight to find out how their own loved ones died – but each family is met with a wall of official silence.
Despite winning several awards and screening at more than 50 festivals, the film has never been broadcast in the UK.
Justice for Joy / Channel 4 / 1995 / 47 mins
Made six years before Injustice, above, and just two years after Joy Gardner’s death, Justice for Joy looks at the events that led to the 40 year old mature student’s death following an immigration raid at her home in Crouch End.
This Channel 4 production follows the public campaign that led to a manslaughter trial at the Old Bailey, and traces the effects on Britain’s black community of the acquittal of three policemen.
Watch Justice for Joy on All 4.
Visiting Julian Cole / The Guardian / 2016 / 10 mins
In 2013, Julian Cole’s neck was broken during his arrest ouside a nightclub, leaving him paralysed and suffering severe brain damage. In this Guardian short documentary, his mother Claudia continues her twice daily visits to his care home, and friends of his drop by, revealing the ongoing trauma and ramifications for all of their lives.
Watch Visiting Julian Cole above, and on The Guardian.
After Windrush / The Guardian / Irene Baque / 2019 / 26 mins
Paulette Wilson moved from Jamaica to the UK in 1968, aged 10, to live with her grandparents. After decades raising a family, working and building a life in the UK, she received a letter from the British government classifying her as an illegal immigrant facing deportation.
Just one of the many vicitms of the Windrush scandal, which broke in 2018 after years of ‘hostile environment’ policies, Wilson’s story resonated with Executive Producer Shanida Scotland, whose grandfather was part of the Windrush generation. Read more on the background to the film here.
In After Windrush, we follow Paulette Wilson as she returns to Jamaica for the first time in 50 years, trying to make sense of her place in the world and rebuild a sense of security and belonging.
Watch After Windrush on The Guardian.
From Slavery to Windrush: My Family’s Story / BBC / 2018 / 16 mins
Continuing the exploration of the aftermath of the Windrush scandal, in this BBC short film, Amanda Kirton journeys from Britain to Jamica, exploring her own family’s past and the history of the two islands.
Watch From Slavery to Windrush on BBC.
Black and Scottish / Stewart Kyasimire / 2019 / 28 mins
Filmmaker and designer Stewart Kyasimire gathers together a diverse group of black Scots to talk about their experiences, determined to help his 8-year-old daughter form a sense of her own black and Scottish identity.