‘West Indians’, a BBC film from 1963 on Afro-Caribbean immigrants

West Indians (Jack Gold, 1963)

This film is one of the oldest in the festival. It was made in 1963 and was made as an insert for the magazine show, Tonight, one of several hundred such films put out by the early evening BBC show during its eight year run

Following on from the riots in Nottingham and Notting Hill Gate in the late 1950s, the film is a White liberal plea for tolerance, targeting Middle England. In the film, a recent Afro-Caribbean immigrant wanders the streets of London looking for accommodation and a job. Unfortunately, unlike Chronicle of a Summer (seen earlier in the day), the protagonist of the film is not afforded a voice. He is constructed as the Afro-Caribbean equivalent of “everyman”. However, the overtly political voiceover provided by Barbadian poet, George Lamming, partly compensates. His voice – and images shot by Gold to underscore it – are damning of White racism of the time.

The message, typical of official discourse in the early 1960s, is one of race relations. It represents a period in the UK before the BBC was prepared to give voice to notions of Black identity per se. The negotiation is always understood from outside, in terms of White versus Black, with little sense of identities constructed from within community networks as well.

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About (sub)urbanite

Professor of Urban Form and Society and Director of the Space Syntax Lab, Bartlett School of Architecture, UCL. Online in a personal capacity.
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One Response to ‘West Indians’, a BBC film from 1963 on Afro-Caribbean immigrants

  1. Pingback: Full list of films screened at the #UCL Urban Migration Film Festival and Symposium | Urban Migration Films

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