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White Riot

Britain, late-1970s. Punk is exploding. The country is deeply divided over immigration. The National Front, a far-right and fascist political party, is gaining strength as politicians like Enoch Powell push a xenophobic agenda.

Outraged by a racist speech from Eric Clapton, music photographer Red Saunders writes a letter to the music press, calling for rock to be a force against racism. NME, Melody Maker, and Sounds all publish the letter. Flooded with responses, Red discovers many share his views. Teaming up with like-minded creatives Roger Huddle, Kate Webb, Syd Shelton and Australian graphic designer Ruth Gregory, the team bands together to create Rock Against Racism (RAR) and a fanzine, Temporary Hoarding.

Speaking directly to the youth, Temporary Hoarding reports stories and issues that the mainstream British media ignores, like immigration, the Catholic side of the Northern Ireland conflict, and the police’s controversial “suspected persons” (sus) powers. They give a voice to the voiceless. The National Front begins to strike back, committing acts of violence against RAR supporters and petrol-bombing their HQ. Despite this, RAR spreads virally across the UK and into Europe, becoming a grassroots youth movement. The Clash, Steel Pulse, Tom Robinson and other top bands of the day jump on board.

White Riot is a moment in time when music changed the world. When a generation challenged the status quo. It’s Woodstock meets the March on Washington, punk-style.

3.5 stars; Highly Recommended
“This short but relentless documentary deftly chronicles this historic concert and some of the powerful performances of Britain’s leading left-leaning punk bands—the Clash, Sham 69, 999, and Tom Robinson Band, among others—high-energy, hungry young groups at the height of their powers…What’s more, it’s also fascinating to behold DIY political activism and concert promotion in the pre-Internet age, requiring much more manual legwork than today’s detached Twitter- and Facebook-driven organizational efforts.” Video Librarian

"Highly Recommended...White Riot is an essential film for any academic library. It’s themes of social progress, racism, human rights, and culture are universal for a multitude of disciplines. In addition, the film appeals to a general adult audience due to heavy involvement of popular musicians of the period.” Educational Media Reviews Online


Main credits

Shah, Rubika (film director)
Shah, Rubika (editor of moving image work)
Gibbs, Ed (film producer)

Other credits

Director of photography, Susanne Salvati; editor, Rubika Shah; original music, Aisling Brouwer.

Docuseek2 subjects

Distributor subjects

Activism, Human Rights, Music, Politics, Race and Racism, Rock, Punk


"White Riot"; Film Movement; The Clash; Steel Pulse; Rock Against Racism; punk music; punk; racism; national front; united kingdom; 1970s; Red Saunders; Roger Huddle; Kate Webb; Tom Robinson; Poly Styrene; Sham 69; Alien Kulture

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