White Riot

Movie Information

This inspiring documentary on grassroots movement Rock Against Racism depicts a frightening chapter in British history.
Genre: Documentary
Director: Rubika Shah
Starring: Joe Strummer, Mick Jones, Pauline Black
Rated: NR

The Clash song “White Riot” was the late ’70s British equivalent of “Born in the U.S.A.”: a song adopted as an anthem by right-wingers who didn’t understand its message. The Clash was calling for poor white Britons to unite with U.K. people of color against economic and political oppression — in response to the country’s National Front movement which wanted people of color ejected from the country and said so in blatantly racist language while campaigning for elected office. The NF had emboldened vicious skinhead gangs, who attacked and murdered people of color in horrifying numbers.

The documentary White Riot paints a frightening picture of this period of English history while tracing the inspiring rise of Rock Against Racism, a grassroots movement that organized multiracial concerts to rally young people to oppose the NF and its minions. Leading punk bands — The Clash, Sham 69, Tom Robinson Band — were on the side of equality; Eric Clapton and Rod Stewart went on the record supporting the NF.

It’s a fascinating and little-known story told by the ordinary people who were its unsung heroes. What’s more, director Rubika Shah’s first feature is a remarkably accomplished film, featuring a kinetic aesthetic derived directly from Rock Against Racism’s graphically madcap magazine — the design sensibility of which is used as a unifying visual language.

The fragmented graphics also reflect the documentary’s impressionistic portrait of Rock Against Racism and its battles. While the time and place are never in doubt, cause and effect can be muddled, as things no doubt seemed to the people who lived through the events. (The thick accents can also be a challenge for U.S. viewers.) But for all the horrors detailed in the film, it’s ultimately a feel-good story as all the activists’ work culminates in an amazing musical event that has to be seen to be appreciated.

Available to rent starting Oct. 16 via grailmoviehouse.com


Before you comment

The comments section is here to provide a platform for civil dialogue on the issues we face together as a local community. Xpress is committed to offering this platform for all voices, but when the tone of the discussion gets nasty or strays off topic, we believe many people choose not to participate. Xpress editors are determined to moderate comments to ensure a constructive interchange is maintained. All comments judged not to be in keeping with the spirit of civil discourse will be removed and repeat violators will be banned. See here for our terms of service. Thank you for being part of this effort to promote respectful discussion.

Leave a Reply

To leave a reply you may Login with your Mountain Xpress account, connect socially or enter your name and e-mail. Your e-mail address will not be published. All fields are required.