On April 30, 1978, in an atmosphere of racial tensions, police repression and the rise of the National Front, the Rock Against Racism and Anti-Nazi League associations organized a parade in London which would bring together 100,000 people and culminated in a free concert in Victoria Park, starring X-Ray Spex, Tom Robinson Band, reggae band Steel Pulse and especially The Clash, accompanied for the occasion by Jimmy Pursey, frontman of Sham 69. First of its kind in England, the event is familiar fans of the first British punk wave, who were able to see large extracts in the Rude Boy by Jack Hazan, cult docu-fiction on The Clash released in 1980.
In White Riot, director Rubika Shah looks back on the origins and circumstances of this parade, and more particularly on the founding of Rock Against Racism, an organization created in 1976 which has evolved into a genuine popular movement, spreading antennas all over the United Kingdom thanks to his fanzine Temporary Hoarding and concerts advocating unity between blacks and whites. Those and those who were mainly waiting for music and live recordings will therefore be at their expense – and that’s good.
Fast, nervous, White Riot is above all carried by the testimonies of mocking activists who are never stingy in scathing replicas and large grain archive images, often of exceptional quality, all linked by animated sequences to the aesthetic cut paste. By avoiding the rock film niche, and therefore the risk of addressing the vast majority to an audience won over in advance, Shah opens the door of his film very wide – even if it means showing himself to be a little scholarly – and it is there one of the main strengths of White Riot. His desire to cover all the fertile grounds of the subject is another – from agitprop theater, a breeding ground from which many activists come from, to the National Front’s infiltration into the punk scene, including the racist protests of David Bowie. , Rod Stewart and especially Eric Clapton, who had expressed his support for ultraconservative Minister Enoch Powell and chanted the National Front slogan («Keep Britain White») on the scene. But the most notable is undoubtedly its astonishing – and hopeless – topicality. Systemic racism, the weight of colonization, police blunders, abusive controls, rise of extremes: everything could have been said or taken place yesterday, in other cities, under other names. As a simple observation, the documentary of Rubika Shah has something to leave bitter. As a driving force or inspiration, it can, on the other hand, be formidable. And frankly exciting.
White riot of Rubika Shah, 1 h 23.