The Right Tune: Our Review of ‘White Riot’

Posted in Movies, Virtual Cinema, What's Streaming? by - July 08, 2020
The Right Tune: Our Review of ‘White Riot’

As much as things changes, they also stay the same…

White Riot takes us into a moment of history that feels all too relevant today as it just looks like we collectively haven’t learned as much as we initially hoped.

It’s Britain in late-1970s and Punk is exploding. The country is deeply divided over immigration. The National Front, a far-right and fascist political party, is gaining strength as politicians like Enoch Powell push a xenophobic agenda. Outraged by a racist speech from Eric Clapton, music photographer Red Saunders writes a letter to the music press, calling for rock to be a force against racism. NMEMelody Maker, and Sounds all publish the letter.  Rock Against Racism is born and begins to look at the stories that are being ignored in the mainstream media and ultimately gives a voice to the voiceless in the face of great oppression and it harkens back to a time when music changed the world, when a generation challenged the status quo. It’s the voice of activism wrapped in the frenetic energy that is the punk scene at the time.

Blasting its way into Virtual Cinema venues across the country this Thursday, White Riot is the kind of film that reminds us how deeply flawed we can be in recreating the mistakes of our past but also in how the spirit to fight against those mistakes has never really died either.

Co-writer and director Rubika Shah takes us into a slice of history that sadly feels all too familiar.  With solid research, archival footage and participation from people in the scene she very deftly paints a picture of not just a musical revolution with the likes of the The Clash and other iconic bands coming on the scene but of a social one as well and how the spirit of the music can embolden the youth of a country to make genuine change.

Shah deftly allows the subjects to do the heavy lifting here as this story of young left leaning hippies were ultimately fed up of the authoritarian extreme right and decided to push back in any way that they could.  It’s all assembled well as it never drags too much on talking heads or even pushing any heavy political ideal yet it hammers home to the clear point that we are struggling with as a society even today.  Being racist is wrong…and not being racist isn’t enough, it’s important to be anti-racist.  Before the age of social media this is how the message of change got through to people, it was through the music and through the connection of simple and strong messaging that everyone deserves a voice.

The film has a real visually engaging esthetic to it as it recaptures the dirty and frenetic energy of the time and the music that helped to spear head this grass roots movement and it’s a necessary refresher that change in the world was still possible even before the 24 hour news cycle and Twitter.

While the film doesn’t give us a full picture of the Rock Against Racism movement, what White Riot does quite well is remind us that ideas can change the world and that they have to start somewhere.  In this day and age with the far-right on the rise once again and the world becoming a more and more frenetic place to simply try and live in, White Riot reminds us that the world is much like a record.  Sure the songs may start out pretty similar but if we ultimately don’t like what we’re hearing it’s incumbent on us to make sure we pick up that needle and change the tune, as well as make sure that we hit repeat on other tracks that just feel right.

This post was written by
David Voigt is a Toronto based writer with a problem and a passion for the moving image and all things cinema. Having moved from production to the critical side of the aisle for well over 10 years now at outlets like Examiner.com, Criticize This, Dork Shelf (Now That Shelf), to.Night Newspaper he’s been all across his city, the country and the continent in search of all the news and reviews that are fit to print from the world of cinema.
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