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Blacks Britannica film screening Saturday 28th January 2017 2pm BFI
'I learnt my politics in my mother's kitchen'
Ahead of our screening of Blacks Britannica on Saturday 28th January Saqib Deshmukh from V4CE spoke to Colin Prescod a documentary film, theatre maker, and TV commissioning editor who was involved in the making of the film in 1978. Colin provides an analysis at different parts of the film so I asked him an overarching question about the relevance of the film today.
'I'm interested in seeing how people who come to the screening particularly those who are active in our struggles see the relevance of the film today. There is a tradition that people who are making black struggle in the UK belong to but most people don't know it. Overall relevance is that I'm hoping it adds to the sense of the historic tradition that they belong to.'
The director David Koffs together with Colin captured the experiences of Black communities in cities such as London, Manchester, Birmingham and Bradford in the film and gave an overview as well as a focus on schooling and policing etc. in the 70's. Early in the film it's stated about the need to create spaces that are not controlled by the State and institutions that belong to the community. V4CE has a focus on asset development and it's a key piece of work that I've been leading on and I asked Colin to comment regarding this:
'The spaces that we have now were commandeered and the communities fought for spaces in different areas of society not just buildings Those spaces came organically from our struggles on the ground. We had to demand these because we were marginalised and alienated.'
I asked him about identity and the definitions that are now used:
'One of the changes from 40 years now is about how we use the term 'Black' and 'Black community' and now many activists want to be defined via ethnicity, as being brown or as people of colour. The pulling back is that people don't want to associated with being politically Black or they don't know how to assert this. Communities aren't as coherent as they used to be. The way that people operate today they don't think that it's a useful banner.'
We had a conversation about the roots of this and State strategies
'To front your ethnicity was the way to get funds and this was one the ways that broke up black struggle and at this time the role of faith was very much in the background.'
Blacks Britannica has a strong critique of racism and capitalism and it's social and economic analysis and the invoking of empire in the film is powerfully done with contributions from activists and young people. This is interspersed with clips of Powell, Thatcher and Wilson and for both of us the relevance is clear.
'Today we have to look at that post Brexit we need to look at not just institutionalised racism but State racism as Sivanandan has recently referred to in his most recent comments.'
We agreed that there is still a cross party consensus on race and whilst the old right wing are easy to dismiss there are still clear links. Previous BNP/NF leadership are involved in UKIP and to hear how much space and legitimacy that they are given is depressing.
'Those times aren't in the past - the rhetoric around immigration is still very much alive. The term is now shorthand for racism. Creates complications and contradictions and we see this through UKIP having Black candidates.'
In Blacks Britannica it was chilling hearing the exclamation that 'We want our country back' and it shows the relevance of the film that despite perceived progress there are still big battles ahead of us, it also backs Darcus Howe’s prophetic assertion about Black representation and the failure of this. Colin wants to use the film screening to start and trigger conversations about the relevance of these issues to front line activists
The criticisms of the role of the police still stands and how they function on the streets as a State agency. Blacks Britannica demonstrates clear evidence of the continuities and we both referred to the number of deaths in custody that are still taking place. Crucially the film also shows how long these struggles have been taking place.
We also talked about being 'schooled' into the struggle and the emphasis on race and class and anti-racism and anti-imperialist politics which defined Black struggle back then. The subsequent role of Reagan and Thatcher and the beginning of individualism and neo-liberal state and how this has broken up our challenges.
I asked Colin if he thought reflection and looking back was helpful or whether it was an exercise in collective nostalgia and the danger of romanticising those times.
'40 years ago movements of young people in our communities are no longer innocent. It’s harder to talk to people about taking up tough stances and how you form yourself'
He explained the history of making the film and Koff's work and background. Previous films have been as equally challenging and forthright. The company WBGH who originally commissioned it fought Koff to change the film and this went on till 1981 when they backed off when the riots started in the UK. When David made the film he intended to make it for an activist audience and asked Colin to collaborate with him and he agreed on the understanding that it would cover our real struggles.
'Nothing stays still and though we may think there has been a loss of community. The State has found ways to fight back, and inside our communities we've thrown up things which are different such as gang culture. Young people have discovered other ways to make a living illegally or not. Great side of this is the explosion in arts and music culture but there's also a negative side.’
'I learnt my politics in my mothers kitchen'
One of the most powerful statements in the film made by one of the contributors. I asked Colin about this and about where young people are learning their politics.
'Our communities may have lost focus but there are still struggles taking place and the truth is that we came out of context of anti-imperialism and the fight for independence back then. State of the world is different now and we're now looking at accommodation rather than revolution and change.'
Blacks Britannica has guile and cleverness in how it allows the images shown to speak for themselves and as Colin says at the time it was seen as screaming revolution. It still retains it's power and in my view is still wholly relevant in 2017.
Saqib Deshmukh, V4CE