This film charts the life and ideas of one of Britain’s most prominent black academics, Stuart Hall. It uses an extensive archive of clips of Hall’s TV appearances, CND marches and lectures, and songs by Hall’s musical hero Miles Davis.
Director John Akomfrah maps the social and political upheavals that shaped Hall’s theories.
Perhaps the biggest came in 1956. The Suez war and the Soviet invasion of Hungary convinced Hall of the need for a space between capitalism and the so-called communist states.
He argued that a “democratic anti-imperial socialist politics was born” that year, which led to his launch of the New Left Review in 1960.
Hall would later be associated with a section of the Communist Party around the Marxism Today journal, which argued that the working class was no longer a significant force.
He tried to replace “grand narratives” and “universalising principles” with self-reflective theories that adapted to change. He became known as “post-Marxist”.
But his work did more to obscure capitalism than to offer a new critique.
Hall grew up in Jamaica with its complex racial identities. The film argues that this, and the pace of social change in England, led him to see culture in terms of constant change.
It is engaging but limits itself to presenting Hall’s ideas—not critically engaging with them.
This is a shame, because to understand and shape today’s world we need Marxism as much as ever.
Directed by John Akomfrah
In cinemas from 6 September