Documentaries

Black Lives Matter in Britain, Too: A Protest Movement Takes Root Across the Pond

A powerful new documentary shows racial inequality is a transatlantic scourge.

Photo Credit: Damien Swaby

Last November, the BBC launched a new series dedicated to the forgotten stories of Britain's black history, encouraging viewers to name their Black British heroes on social media. Naomi Campbell, Malorie Blackman, Lenny Henry, Trevor McDonald, Reggie Yates, Thandie Newton, Baroness Patricia Scotland and the John Sentamu Archbishop of York were all contributors to the project

Around that time, the Black Lives Matter was exploding in the UK, four years after the movement began in the United States.

"Black lives don't matter in the UK — if you are poor and black, the colour bar is a lived reality," activist and campaigner Joshua Virasami told Al Jazeera. 

It was this sentiment of racial inequality that inspired London-based filmmaker Damien Swaby to document this movment in his film, "Black Lives Matter UK."

Watch: "#BlackLivesMatterUK": Trailer

"My conclusion after making the documentary is that parts of American culture are so big and broad; the UK wanting to align itself with it at times feels odd," he told AlterNet. "In some ways it's funny, in other ways it's sad." 

Britain's black population is approximately 2 million in a country of 64.6 million.

"That [1999] Macpherson Report accused the London Metropolitan police of institutional racism — and looking back, it was around that time that [British] media facilitators withdrew and kind of backed off race," explained British historian Stephen Bourne.

A 2016 report by the Equality and Human Rights Commission revealed widespread inequality in employment and safety in a divided Britain. 

"In Britain, significantly lower percentages of ethnic minorities (8.8%) worked as managers, directors and senior officials, compared with White people (10.7%). This was particularly true for African/Caribbean/Black people (5.7%) and those of Mixed ethnicity (7.2%)," the report stated

Additionally, "Black people who leave school with A-levels typically get paid 14.3% less than their White peers," researchers found. 

Swaby's documentary includes interviews with a host of different subjects, all of whom have something to say about the #BlackLivesMatterUK movement. Some he meets on the street; others he's known for a decade. 

He calls the provocative work "enhanced public awareness."

"I just hate generic, mainstream media style questions," he told AlterNet. "I like to ask the questions I think the public want to hear."

Swaby's work has been screened at film festivals in London, San Diego, Birmingham, Staffordshire, Reykjavik, Sacramento and Brighton.

"BlackLivesMatterUK" begins streaming online this May. 

Watch: "#BlackLivesMatterUK": Exclusive Clip

Alexandra Rosenmann is an AlterNet associate editor. Follow her @alexpreditor.

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