Steve McQueen has followed his now award-winning Small Axe with this documentary film, telling the true stories of the British black power movement, directed by George Amponsah and narrated by Daniel Kaluuya.
And this is a story that needs to be told. For some reason, most British kids who go through the standard curriculum are taught of uprisings and activism through the United States’ civil rights era, learning of Martin Luther King Jr, and the Black Panthers. But what about the black power heroes that fought for justice in Britain? Like Olive Morris, a community activist in South London and leader of black feminist activism, Altheia Jones-LeCointe, a leader of the British Black Panther movement, and Darcus Howe, the inspired speaker and racial justice campaigner. This documentary explores the various groups that made up the British black power movement, such as the Black Liberation Front, the United Coloured People’s Association, the British Black Panthers and the Fasimbas, interviewing key figures and using archive footage to show what it was like for black people in the 1960s and 70s, and more specifically, what it was like to resist.
The film is full of harsh realities on the treatment of black people in Britain, discussing the everyday racism that people faced, upheld by a societal system that didn’t support them. They were held back at level – in education, employment, leisure and in safety. A police officer who worked in London during the time describes in the film the brutal treatment of black people in police custody, admitting his own failures and cowardice in not speaking out. But another sits with a smug face, denying any guilt.
And this uncomfortable parallel is central to this captivating and harrowing film, documenting a huge part of history which many of us are far too ignorant of. And it does well to explain the complexities of the movement, which like any campaign for justice, was not always unified or straightforward.
The Guardian’s Rebecca Nicholson gives the film five stars, and calls it “a masterly history of a multifaceted and complex movement for racial equality.” And Anita Singh in The Telegraph agrees, commenting that “telling the story over 90 minutes allowed the programme to explain the complexities of the movement,” whilst “drawing on a rich archive of footage.” Like Nicholson, The Times’s Carol Midgley too gave Black Power a full five stars, saying, “watching it was to be shown starkly how black people were living a totally different reality from white people, and no playing field was close to level… this was a mesmerising, horrifying piece of social history that should be shown in schools.”
First shown March 2021.