New Documentary “White Riot” Remembers U.K. Rock Against Racism Movement
Late ’70s Britain looked a lot like current-day America—but punk rock helped save the day.
Britain in the late 1970s was grim; immigration had split the country, giving rise to the far-right and fascist political party, the National Front. When rock guitarist Eric Clapton hit the stage in Birmingham, England, in 1976, he would unknowingly light the spark of a punk rock revolution.
“I think Enoch’s right, I think we should send them all back. Stop Britain from becoming a Black colony. Get the foreigners out,” Clapton was quoted as saying from the stage, referencing white nationalist politician Enoch Powell. “England is for white people, man. We are a white country… This is Great Britain, a white country. What is happening to us, for fuck’s sake?”
With the National Front gaining power, what started a fanzine established in opposition to that party turned into a sweeping movement known as Rock Against Racism. “We peeled away the Union Jack to reveal the swastika,” explained co-founded Red Saunders in a press statement for White Riot, a new documentary that chronicles the RAR movement, which culminated in a massive 1978 concert and “anti-fascist carnival” featuring X-Ray Spex, Steel Pulse, and The Clash.
White Riot won the prize for Best Documentary at the 2019 London Film Festival, and features new interviews with Clash drummer Topper Headon, Pauline Black of band The Selecters, reggae producer Dennis Bovel, and Saunders himself.
The film debuts October 16 via virtual cinema, which supports independent theaters during the pandemic. The movie’s distributor, Film Movement, partnered with voter awareness org HeadCount, to incorporate voting information with views of White Riot. The plan is to help amplify national campaigns for National Voter Registration Day (yesterday, September 22), Return Your Ballot Day (October 13), and Vote Early Day (October 24) across America leading up to the 2020 national election.
Watch the trailer below.