A new documentary, White Riot, will look back at how the punk scene in Great Britain came close to swinging to the far right, sparking a Rock Against Racism movement there in the mid-Seventies. The film will come out via Virtual Cinema on October 16th.
“We said, what we need to do is do a gig, a thing called Rock Against Racism,” one of the organization’s founders, Roger Huddle, says in a trailer for the film.
“We want rebel music, street music, music that breaks down people’s fear of one another, music that knows who the real enemy is,” another co-founder, Red Saunders, says. “Love music, hate racism.”
In the clip, the co-founders reflect on how the period was marked by an uptick in arrests of black youth. The footage shows a mix of punk gigs, scenes of police harassing people of color, and police riots. It shows how the Rock Against Racism organizers planned a march from London’s Trafalgar Square to Victoria Square, culminating in a massive demonstration, as X-Ray Spex’s “Oh Bondage! Up Yours!” plays in the background. More than 100,000 people showed up for a concert that featured the Clash, Steel Pulse, Tom Robinson, and X-Ray Spex.
“Rock Against Racism was white people finally waking up to the fact that there’s racism here,” the Selecter’s Pauline Black says.
The film was directed by Rubika Shah, who previously helmed another film called White Riot: London, about how immigration changed the U.K. in the late Seventies, as well as shorts about David Bowie and Spike Lee. The doc’s distributor, Film Movement, announced the picture Tuesday to coincide with National Voter Registration Day and has partnered with HeadCount, an organization that promotes voter registration and awareness. Viewers who check out the doc through Virtual Cinema will be able to see HeadCount’s short films as well.
Rock Against Racism formed in 1976 after Eric Clapton endorsed MP Enoch Powell, whose “Rivers of Blood” speech in 1968 complaining about immigration served as a dog whistle for U.K. racists. It shows how Rock Against Racism’s zine, Temporary Hoarding, helped the movement grow, leading up to the march on Victoria Park and unifying concert.