Rock Against Racism was formed in 1976 by Red Saunders, prompted by Eric Clapton. White Riot is a film that was produced to give the organisation a voice, that is still needed over forty years later. Screening as part of the Glasgow Film Festival, the documentary juxtaposes fresh interviews with archival footage along with snazzy graphics and imaging to convey the hostility of the environment between anti-NF and National Front marches.
Expanding her short documentary film, Rubika Shah’s timely film charts a vital London protest movement, that is as relevant now with Trump in power and Boris Johnson. Rock Against Racism (RAR) was established in 1976, with Eric Clapton as a catalyst, alongside the words of racist MP, Enoch Powell and the rise of the National Front.
The interviews with founder Red Saunders and other members of RAR, Kate Webb and Ruth Gregory, gave a real sense of what they were specifically trying to achieve with their publication, and who they were trying to attract. There was a real concern as neo-Nazis were recruiting the nation’s youth, RAR were organising multicultural punk and reggae gigs to offer safe spaces to encourage resistance to organisations such as the NF. One of the key quotes from the film: ‘We peeled away the Union Jack to reveal the swastika’. Focusing on the first of the Notting Hill Carnival gigs, with X-Ray Specs, The Clash and Tom Robinson as well as Steel Pulse, there was an effective portrayal of the tension between the groups, particularly as there was a divide with the fans of Sham 69 who came on stage to perform with The Clash. It was fierce, and it reminds us of how fierce it still is, when we consider Farage, and the EDL and various other groups that have supported anti-immgration laws, and more recently Brexit aside other things.
Stylised, zine-like, and raw, White Riot is a great piece of archival footage that rediscovers the right in British politics and highlights the warm camaraderie and richness in it’s multicultural society.