fight the power with london's young black revolutionaries
Generation Revolution is a new documentary shining a light on the activists fighting for a fairer future. We caught up with the directors to talk about fighting racism, combating gentrification and building a protest movement
Generation Revolution is a timely new doc that follows London's young black and brown activists. It spotlights two groups specifically: The London Black Revolutionaries (aka 'Black Revs'), who grabbed headlines for pouring concrete over anti-homeless spikes outside a central London Tesco; and R Movement, an 'intersectional radical organisation' who took an online debate and turned it into political action. Both share a burning passion and idealism; both are - politically speaking - wide awake, fighting for the marginalised in a country where people from black or minority ethnic communities are more likely to end up dead after being in police custody following the use of force.
When I called up the activist filmmakers behind the documentary, Cassie Quarless and Usayd Younis, we spoke about the groups' proximity to the #BlackLivesMatter movement, changing people's perceptions about young protesters, the interlinked struggles -- racial inequality, gender inequality, social inequality, gentrification -- and how the wider movement has evolved in what we now cosily refer to as post-Brexit Britain.
What was the spark that started this film for you?
Usayd Younis: We were so used to seeing depictions of young black and brown people as not contributing to society and a whole host of other stereotypes. And so we thought, actually, we know people who are just like us, who are doing great work out there. A lot of people at the time had heard about the Black Revs. They were this anonymous group, nobody knew who they were but they were doing some really interesting things, like taking direct action against anti-homeless spikes outside Tesco. And so we thought, why don't we find out what they're doing? And it sort of spiralled from there.
To what extent did the Black Lives Matter movement in the US play a part in forming these London groups?
Cassie Quarless: I wouldn't say the Black Lives Matter movement formed these groups but it definitely informed the work that they were doing. For example, the Black Revs did organise a lot of actions in solidarity with the US, like the solidarity 'die-in' for Eric Garner -- one of the first things you see in the film -- and then there were a lot of things around Freddie Gray for example. But if we think about police brutality in the UK, we have over 1500 deaths in police custody in the UK that no one has ever been held accountable for. So the groups have been talking about these issues but they've also been talking about other things -- homelessness and its effects in London, gentrification, immigration, a lot of things.
How are the London groups different in terms of their core concerns?
Cassie: The BLM movement in the US is very pointed in its critique of police brutality and anti-blackness. The movement here definitely addresses those things because they're real issues in the UK but I think one of the main differences is that in the UK, race and racism aren't talked about as much, and in so doing I think there's a lot more insidious and institutional racism here. And I think that these are the kinds of things that the groups here are trying to bring light to.
You filmed the 'Black Brunch' protest against gentrification in Brixton, where we see the stunned faces of people eating in fancy restaurants. What kind of impact do those events have?
Cassie: With the 'Black Brunch' the idea was to get people -- especially the people who are having an impact on the communities, the middle-class people, people with more money, white people who are going into these areas and gentrifying them -- to get people to think about those dynamics. We were concentrating on the London Black Revs on that day so we didn't speak to a lot of the people in the area, but I do think when that process is right there in your face, it does get you to think about the kinds of dynamics that you're playing a part in. Right now, gentrification in London is something you can't really get away from, but it would serve everyone well to think about how we can actually mitigate against its effects, in terms of allowing other people who may not have as much money as ourselves to be able to live in this city.
One girl, Tej, was wary of simplifying the 'us vs. them' politics, and she had a clear message of unity. Was she a minority in the radical groups you met?
Cassie: I don't think that the groups shy away from being inclusive. I think what is really important to acknowledge is that there is a necessity for people from different oppressed groups -- women, black and brown people -- to be able to organise separately from other people. That doesn't mean to say that we want to create a society in which everyone is hermetically sealed off from everybody else; it means that the groups who suffer and who experience oppression in different ways are the best people to be thinking about what the best course of action is.
There was controversy in the press recently surrounding the white kids at London City Airport who protested for Black Lives Matter. Did you talk to the groups about how they felt potentially about white middle-class kids getting involved and speaking for them?
Usayd: The film isn't necessarily speaking on behalf of that -- the BLM UK movement came about at the end of our film and is a consortium of different groups -- but obviously there has been a lot of discussion and debate and it makes the film more timely, because people are talking about exactly this: who should speak for who? I think that's constantly been a point of contention for a lot of people. But I couldn't speak on behalf of the groups to say what they think about that.
You've worked on this film for two years; how have you seen the movement evolve, particularly in post-Brexit Britain?
Cassie: I think that in post-Brexit Britain the movement has become so much more necessary, because obviously we've seen a spike in Islamophobic hate attacks, we've seen a spike in general racism, we've seen the mainstream press become nasty. I think there seems to be increasing polarisation in the UK, but I also think that that means there's going to be increasing attacks on the communities that we were following in the film, and that really highlights the necessity for organisation. Because organisation in these communities doesn't just mean liberation for black and brown people, it also means an increased sense of understanding, which is what this country desperately needs.
Are you hopeful that the movement's aims, in terms of eradicating racism, will be achieved?
Usayd: As activist-filmmakers ourselves, we definitely wear the hats of people who want to see the change affected in society and not just document it. It is in our interest as people of colour in this country to organise. We have a stake in society and deserve to have proper representation. We absolutely want to see these aims realised. We want this film to encourage people to get involved to affect that kind of change.
Generation Revolution is released in the UK on 11 November
Text Oliver Lunn