Black History Month: Black Britain on Camera

As Black History Month nears its end, what better way to celebrate than to learn about the experiences of Black Britain through stories on screen? Here are three of the best.

Gone Too Far!

This comedic introduction of two estranged brothers in South East London is a light watch but contains a strong message about racial identity in contemporary multicultural London. The main character, Yemi, prepares for his older brother’s long-awaited arrival from Nigeria, and when he turns up, Yemi’s worst nightmares are confirmed. From his socks and sandals to his thick accent Yemi doesn't want to be seen dead with him, but a trip to the shops turns into a cat-and-mouse chase in which Yemi’s brother does nothing but continually embarrass him.

The comedy excels in it’s perceptive and exaggerated depictions of certain stereotypes from the roadman to the South London rude girl. But behind this there lies a constant discussion over racial identity and what it means to be proud of your roots. The characters actively divide themselves into Africans and West Indians. The radio station heard in the film asks questions about whether each black community can use the other’s slang.

Yemi tries to impress Armani but she thinks she’s too good for him because she’s Jamaican and he’s Nigerian. Armani’s ex-boyfriend Razor, also Jamaican, talks about the difference between the two black communities to his unconvinced friends. One friend ridicules Razor for not even going to Jamaica and asks why he doesn't see himself as British when he was born here.

By the end everyone recognises the pointlessness of pitting the two black communities against each other. The mixture of humour with discussions on racial identity is rare but Gone Too Far! strikes the perfect balance.

Bullet Boy

Straight out of prison, Ricky finds himself torn between his loyalties at home and his desire to start afresh and leave his past behind him. Ricky’s struggle is mirrored in his younger brother Curtis who, at twelve years old, is facing big decisions on what he wants to do in life. At the heart of the story is the strained relationship of their family and the tough decisions their mother makes to try and keep them from going astray.

One day Curtis finds Ricky’s gun and takes it out with his friend. In the most shocking and unexpected scene of the film, they are seen playing hide and seek with the gun when things go wrong. Their mother makes an understandable yet unimaginable sacrifice for him.

The resolution of Ricky’s story is not surprising; an obvious solution to the film's chain of events. Yet, despite his flaws, it was one you prayed wouldn't happen.

The last few scenes of the film are subtly moving and you find yourself questioning which routed the characters will decide to take right until the very end. Focusing on the individual lives and family dynamic, it portrays the facts of their circumstances through a highly emotional story. Although Bullet Boy doesn't shy away from the realities of crime in London the final scene of the film does provide a bitter glimmer of hope that maybe things could change.

Pressure

Made in 1976, Pressure is considered to be the first black British feature film. It follows Tony, a first-generation immigrant, trying to navigate 1970s London while being torn between two cultures. On one hand he wants to fit in and mix with the white people from his school and on the other he needs solidarity with people from his culture. Tony’s brother Colin is a leader in the local Black Power group and continually encourages Tony to attend. At first Tony isn’t interested but over the course of the film he becomes more involved; the turning point in this being a brutal police raid at a Black Power meeting. 

It's perhaps not the most enthralling watch but Pressure is both of its time and a discussion on race and society that is increasingly relevant today. The themes of unemployment, racism, disparities in education, poverty and police brutality are still major issues and shows the similarity between society then and now.

Yet it’s focus on Black Power is an informative depiction of a movement important in the history of the fight for racial equality. The film is more of a social commentary, with a script revolving around serious conversations over race, rather than a kitchen-sink drama. In that sense it has a documentary type quality which really explores questions of racial equality, making it an important watch to learn about black history in Britain.