Rock Against Racism doc ‘White Riot’ is essential 2020 viewing
Director Rubikah Shah's new documentary White Riot gets its US release (to rent online from a "virtual theater" and also in a few actual theaters) today, and though it takes place over 40 years ago, it has a message that's essential today. Named after The Clash's anti-racism anthem, it chronicles the UK's late 1970s "Rock Against Racism" movement, which happened as a result of heightened racial tension in the UK. Far-right group The National Front had become mainstream as prominent politician Enoch Powell began pushing an increasingly xenophobic and racist agenda. When rock stars like Eric Clapton and Rod Stewart began spewing similar rhetoric, music photographer Red Saunders reacted by getting together with Roger Huddle, Kate Webb, Syd Shelton, and Ruth Gregory to launch the "Rock Against Racism" movement and the Temporary Hoarding fanzine. They put on shows with punk, ska, reggae, and new wave bands, with the goal of bringing Black and white musicians and fans together to preach unity and fight against racism.
The documentary features interviews with Red, Roger, Kate, Syd, Ruth, The Clash's Topper Headon, The Selecter's Pauline Black, Steel Pulse's Mykaell Riley & David Hinds, Matumbi's Dennis Bovell, Tom Robinson, and others, as well as concert footage, old photos, clips of the Temporary Hoarding fanzine and more, and it culminates in RAR and the Anti-Nazi League's big 1978 Carnival Against the Nazis in Victoria Park, which featured Patrick Fitzgerald, X-Ray Spex, Steel Pulse, The Clash (joined by Sham 69's Jimmy Pursey for guest lead vocals on "White Riot"), and the Tom Robinson Band.
The anti-racism movements of the era had an impact and the National Front was eventually defeated, but as the US struggles with racial tension and a racist, xenophobic leader right now, it becomes clearer and clearer as you watch that history is repeating itself. Anyone with an interest in both activism and music can learn something from this film, and if we're lucky, it could help inspire a similar movement to transpire today.
Info on where and how to watch the film here. Trailer and a clip of the Clash/Jimmy Pursey performance below.