Film Review: Generation Revolution
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Over recent years, we have seen BME activism grow in strength and numbers once again. The Black Lives Matter campaign began three years ago in the States, initially as a social media movement, but it quickly grew into a series of real life protests mainly centered around the deaths of black Americans at the hands of the authorities in the USA.
Generation Revolution moves the viewfinder across the pond and into our own capital. This BFI-backed documentary follows two groups of British activists in London - London Black Revolutionaries (London Black Revs as they are known by members in the film) and R Movement.
You may not know the names - I didn’t. But whilst watching the documentary I was struck by how many of their protests I had already seen and borne witness too. Remember when Westfield shopping centre was faced with a die-in following the death of Eric Garner in New York? Or more recently when access to Heathrow was blocked by Black Lives Matter protestors on the fifth anniversary of Mark Duggan’s death? Both protests planned and implemented by the UK groups, with the filmmakers on hand to bring behind the scenes footage to the documentary.
Co-directors Cassie Quarless and Usayd Younis spent two years following LBR and RM in London. They follow the activists as they move from university meeting rooms and into the streets, gaining supporters and losing allies along the way.
It’s a fascinating insight into the world of the activists, and the way they see the world. It contrasts massively with the narrative that millennials and young people are apathetic to the politics of the world they live in. They certainly care a lot more than anyone seems to give them credit for - ‘we’re the dispossessed fighting for others dispossessed’ one of the activists puts it. Indeed, we see the activists regularly take to the streets and distribute care packages to rough sleepers in London in some touching scenes.
The documentary exposes successfully the widening gulf between the establishment and minorities in the UK. The groups march on Brixton, protesting the gentrification there, and are seen at the beginning of the film engaging in an almost guerilla war with Tesco over the infamous anti-homeless spikes placed outside some of their stores in 2014. During one Westminster protest as a policeman attempts to negotiate with one of the group’s leaders; its obvious that mere dialogue between the two sides will not be enough to ease the pain felt by the activists.
Although somewhat biased in its approach - we see only from the perspective of the activist groups and the police aren’t necessarily portrayed in the most complimentary light - the documentary exposes problems that exist within the activist scene. One of the young women working for LBR, Tej, provides the foil for the hardline activism advocated by Arnie, the founder of LBR. She doesn’t believe in an antagonistic approach, expressing discomfort for the group’s involvement and practice with their “Fuck the Tories” protest. She believes in a dialogue that engages everyone, rather than an activism that isolates those it is protesting against. It puts her at odds with Arnie, and as the group is involved in increasingly tense standoffs with the police, the fracturing of LBR raises questions about the nature of activism, and what change can actually and positively be achieved.