Last month the UK government released a report which states that the UK isn’t racist… The Sewell Report found no evidence that institutional racism exists in Britain today. In fact, Tony Sewell, the chairman wrote in the foreword that “We no longer see a Britain where the system is deliberately rigged against ethnic minorities”.
In the same week as this report, the mother of a missing black boy with sickle cell disease was told “how do you expect us to find your son if you can’t?”. The same month that the British media were once again criticised for the racial undertones of their coverage of Meghan Markle. The same year that has seen an increase in hate crimes against black people in this country, despite (or sadly maybe because of) the Black Lives Matter movement. But no, racism doesn’t exist here anymore! To help you decide for yourselves, I’ve compiled a list of great films, documentaries and series that give an insight into Black history and the Black British experience spanning the last 50 years *shreds the Sewell report*.
Small Axe, Steve McQueen, BBC iPlayer
Small Axe is a collection of 5 stories which explore the lives of London’s West Indian community between 1969-1982. Episodes cover the trial of the Mangrove Nine, the founding of the ‘Black Police Association’ and the Brixton uprisings of 1981. Like much of black history, the stories featured aren’t taught in UK schools. Leaving such incredible people, stories and events out of the curriculum has a damaging effect on not just what people learn, but how people learn and form views of themselves and others. The superb casting also spotlights incredible black British talent including Leticia Wright (Black Panther) John Boyega (Star Wars) and Michael Ward (Top Boy).
Tackling Racism, Sky Documentaries
I love football, it’s one of my favourite things in the world (cheers dad for passing that down to me!) But sadly, the sport has always been blighted with racism. Players including Ian Wright, Paul Ince and Dion Dublin have all talked about their experiences of racial abuse whilst playing in the 1980’s/90’s. When once it was confined to in person interactions, today social media is being utilised to commit hate crimes 24/7 with little consequence. Recently, young black footballers including Raheem Sterling and the angel boy Marcus Rashford have shared their experiences of racial trolling and online abuse. In this brilliant documentary, former Man City and England defender Micah Richards discusses racial prejudice, the levels of racism in British football and how important education is in changing people’s attitudes.
Black and British: A Forgotten History, David Olusoga, BBC iPlayer
Based on his incredible book of the same name, this series looks into the forgotten black British history. As Olusoga states “Black history is British history”. The two are intertwined. You can’t have one without the other. The way our country functions, the values we hold, the culture we have, the foods we enjoy, the music we dance to, the fashions we wear, the history we share is influenced and ingrained in black history. In the four-part series, the historian looks into the relationship between Britain and people of African heritage, slavery & the Victorian morale crusade against it and three African kings who fought against Empire. It’s the perfect supplement to the 500+ page book!
The Last Tree, Shola Amoo, Netflix
‘Farming’ was a phenomenon that became popular in the late 1960’s, which saw Nigerian children privately fostered by white working-class families who would look after the children whilst their own parents worked or studied. In this powerful 2019 film by Shola Amoo, the protagonist is Femi, a young black by raised by a white foster mum in the Lincolnshire countryside. As a teenager, Femi returns to London to live with his birth mum and comes up against a whole new set of challenges. The narrative explores themes of identity, culture, home and racism in an emotional look at life as a young black British male in London during the early noughties.
Unremembered: Britain’s Forgotten War Heroes, Channel 4 (4oD)
I’m embarrassed to admit this, but it wasn’t until my 20’s that I realised people of colour fought for Britain in the World Wars. I mean, now I think about it of course they did, but I’d never seen a non-white face when learning about the Wars in school or museums. The fact that West Indians, Africans and Indians served and lost their lives whilst fighting for our freedom isn’t mentioned. In this show, Labour MP David Lammy looks at the heroes who have been forgotten or gone uncelebrated including 100,000 Africans who died serving in WW1. Sadly, they were not honoured with individual burials but instead placed in a mass grave. It wasn’t until 2017 that an African and Caribbean War Memorial was unveiled in London to commemorate the 2 million African-Caribbean soldiers that served. The show shines a light on one of the grossest forms of racism that I think exists in this country.
Why is Covid Killing People of Colour?, BBC iPlayer
A very interesting and eye-opening documentary looking into the news that people of colour in Britain are dying from Covid-19 in disproportionate numbers. When I first heard this news, I must say, I was very confused as to how this could be the case. Watching this show I was shocked, but sadly not surprised, to see that it essentially stems from systematic racism. Research suggests a range of aspects has led to this. From the huge number of people of colour working as low paid key workers, living in deprived areas, battling with chronic illnesses and not being taken seriously by healthcare professionals. The documentary, presented by David Harewood, gives another example of how racism, both conscious and unconscious, has a harmful effect on people of colour in this country.
Dispatches: The Black Maternity Scandal, Channel 4 (4oD)
In 2019, a report looking into maternal morbidity in the UK found that Black women are FOUR times more likely to die during pregnancy or childbirth than their white counterparts. In this investigative documentary presented by Rochelle Humes (a mother of 3 herself), the reasons that are connected to this shocking statistic are discussed. From healthcare professionals not properly understanding conditions and diseases more commonly inherited by people of colour, to black women being framed as ‘strong’ therefore not needing the same assistance as others during or after childbirth. A number of black celebrities including Serena Williams and Beyonce have shared stories about their experiences and the lack of care or understanding almost resulted in irreversible damage or death. The need to get on top of this is paramount so that women of colour aren’t at more risk than others when bringing life into the world. It really shouldn’t be that difficult.
Happy watching/learning! If you have any other suggestions please do comment or share them with me on Instagram (@museum.musings)