The Power of Film: Protest and its Documentation in ‘Generation Revolution’

By Hattie

To kick off our final week of Black History Month events, we screened Generation Revolution, a documentary directed by Cassie Quarless and Usayd Younis in 2016. The event took place in connection with UoM History Department and the Race, Roots and Resistance Collective, and was followed by a Q&A with the directors and historian Dr Kerry Pimblott. Watching the film and listening to the audience’s responses was an incredible insight into race relations in Britain, but also reinforced the necessity and value of our collections here at the AIU Centre.

The photograph shows a female history lecturer interviewing two young male film directors in front of an audience

The Generation Revolution film sprung from the existing desire of black youth to participate in discussions about racism, homelessness and gentrification in London with the hope of creating change. It is very important that the documentary portrays these issues in a British context, especially racism, as very often movements such as Black Lives Matter are discussed only in a US context. Since its release, the film has been used to facilitate these discussions around the country.

The film itself follows the journeys of ‘The London Black Revolutionaries’, or ‘Black Revs’, as they attempt to change the political and social landscape of black Britain. The audience meets various individuals who discover that while they are united in their beliefs, they have differing views on how the institutionalised racism within London (and beyond) should be tackled, which eventually leads to division within the group. The film includes interviews with activists, protest footage, and on-screen tweets and messages from the organisations involved. Some sections of the film are uncomfortable to watch, such as the violent clashes between the police officers and activists, however the film undeniably has the necessary effect of proving that change is needed.

Equally as thought-provoking as the film was the Q&A that followed. Co-director Cassie Quarless firstly emphasised the importance of the internet in activism in the 21st century, which added context to the tweets the audience saw on-screen. A particularly interesting point was raised in response to the black marches shown in the film. The individual suggested that black, brown and white people should stand together in unity to create change within the existing society, rather than acting separately, divided by their racial differences. This was challenged with the statement that there is too much internalised racism and self-hate within black and brown communities for this to be possible yet, and that they must first stand unified amongst themselves.

Finally, a discussion began around the importance of sharing memories and experiences, which is where we come in! The directors and audience alike agreed that lived experiences of racism and activism are not documented and remembered in the UK in the same way as they are in the US. Where the transatlantic slave trade and civil rights movement are taught in (some) American schools, we rarely see the equivalent British black history taught here. The passing down of memories is crucial for ensuring a sense of pride and belonging for black and brown people in Britain, and inspiring activism to continue until change is achieved.

Our archive here at the AIU Centre holds many memories of lived experiences of black British people, and proof of their activism against discrimination, but there needs to be more work done! Generation Revolution demonstrates that young people are incredibly important in the struggle for racial equality in Britain today, and this film provides hope that their efforts will be documented and remembered more successfully than that of their counterparts in past decades.

Generation Revolution is a fantastic film that is a must-see for anyone interested in social activism and contemporary race relations in London… and everyone else! The DVD will soon be available in our library, but the film is also available to purchase online. Many thanks to Cassie Quarless and Usayd Younis for joining us and sharing their wisdom and creativity here in Manchester!

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