Burning an Illusion
Both released on DVD by the British Film Institute (£19.99)
This autumn sees the welcome release on DVD of two films pivotal in the history of black British film-making.
Both Menelik Shabazz’s film Burning an Illusion, and Horace Ové’s production Pressure, the first black British feature film, grew out of key moments in the struggle against racism.
Burning an Illusion was made in 1981, a year which began with the unsolved New Cross fire in which 13 black teenagers died, and which triggered the Black People’s Day of Action — a huge protest march through central London.
November that year saw uprisings against police harassment in inner cities across the country.
Burning an Illusion focuses on one black London woman and her growing radicalisation as a result of both the jailing of her boyfriend and her own treatment at the hands of racists.
Pressure grew out of the real life street protests against the persistent police raids on the Mangrove restaurant, a community organising centre in London’s Ladbroke Grove.
In 1971, following a protest march, the main activists, among them Darcus Howe, were faced with the serious charges of incitement to riot, attempted murder of police officers and assault.
The nine defendants, advised by their lawyers to cop a plea of guilty in return for “lighter” prison sentences, mounted their own defence and were eventually acquitted of the charges by an all white jury.
Ové, who was involved in the campaign and documented many of the events as a photographer, also wove into Pressure the growing movement against the institutionalised failure of black children in the education system.
Pressure focuses on Tony, a London born black teenager who leaves school, but finds his job ambitions are thwarted at every turn by racist employers.
Meanwhile Tony’s hard working parents can’t understand what is wrong with their son who did so well at school.
The film follows the ways Tony is pulled by his friendships with his white mates, all of whom are working, and his drift into crime with a gang of black street kids.
Tony’s story parallels that of his brother, Colin, and the militants of the local Black Power movement, campaigning against police harassment and state racism.
The film builds to a climax with the police clamping down on the protesters and Tony being forced to seek answers to his predicament.