White Riot is a highly-acclaimed and 2019 BFI award winning film that charts the turbulent end of the 1970s when the National Front movement gripped the UK. Punk was exploding, and opinions were deeply divided over immigration. High-ranking politicians like Enoch Powell pushed a xenophobic agenda, and some of the biggest names in music at the time echoed these sentiments in the press – Eric Clapton and Rod Stewart to name a couple.
One fan decided enough was enough: music photographer Red Saunders wrote a letter to the music press, calling for rock to be a force against racism. NME, Melody Maker, and Sounds all published the letter. Flooded with responses, Red discovered many shared his views.
Teaming up with like-minded creatives Roger Huddle, Kate Webb, Syd Shelton and Australian graphic designer Ruth Gregory, the team created Rock Against Racism (RAR) and a fanzine, Temporary Hoarding, out of a small print shop in East London.
Speaking directly to the youth, Temporary Hoarding reported stories and issues that the mainstream British media ignored, like immigration, the Catholic side of the Northern Ireland conflict, and the police’s controversial “suspected persons” (sus) powers. They gave a voice to the voiceless. The National Front, led by Martin Webster, struck back committing acts of violence against RAR supporters, culminating in the petrol-bombing of their HQ. Despite this, RAR message spread like wildfire virally across the UK and into Europe, becoming a grassroots youth movement.
The Clash, Steel Pulse, Tom Robinson and other top bands of the day jumped on board for a march across London, ending in the heart of the front’s territory – Victoria Park – for a concert. Only prepared for an audience of 500 supporters, no one could have predicted the turnout. Nicknamed White Riot after The Clash song, thousands descended on the arena to support and challenge the status quo.
This is a fantastic watch, accompanied by a rollicking soundtrack, making it a hit for history and music buffs. From an art and design perspective, this also chronicles an extensive retrospective on print and graphic design definitive of that era.
White Riot opens in cinemas on Thursday 18 March 2021. Check your local guides for screening times.
About White Riot
Directed by Rubika Shah