Check Out This Archive Of Black Britain On Film

Will Noble
By Will Noble Last edited 26 months ago
Check Out This Archive Of Black Britain On Film
A still from African Visitors to the Tower of London (1949) © BFI

London features heavily in BFI's online archive, Black Britain on Film.

The collection features hundreds of documentaries, newsreels and feature films, tracking the tribulations and progress of black communities in the UK.

Over a century old, silent film From Trinidad to Serve the Empire (1916), sees Trinidadian troops scrutinized by a a festooned Lord Mayor of London. 15,600 men of the British West Indies Regiment served in the first world war.

African Visitors to the Tower of London (1949) shows a group of Nigerian dignitaries visiting the Tower in traditional dress and upstaging the Beefeaters in the process. It was commissioned by the Colonial Film Unit, created with the intention of "putting the production of films for backward races on a permanent footing". Er.

Still from Divide and Rule - Never! (1978) © BFI

Indeed, the archive often makes for disconcerting viewing. In Divide and Rule - Never! (1978) one young punk Londoner explains his uneasiness with the black community, suggesting "if we start beating them up and that", they might "start to get the message".

More modern additions to the archive include the 1994 film Concrete Garden — the story of a West Indian girl who moves to 1950s London — and Wolcott, a London-based cop drama, which delves into London's drug trade and racism in the force. It starred George William Harris in the role of the UK's first black TV cop, and Rik Mayall as a racist colleague.  

Films like Kidulthood — 2006's hit about a three teenagers let loose in London — brings the archive into contemporary, if often still troubled, times.

Many of the films are free to watch. Some have small pay-to-view charges.

For more on the history of black people in London, visit Brixton's Black Cultural Archives.

Last Updated 28 November 2016