Tuesday, June 27, 2023 at 7:30pm
Menelik Shabazz's Step Forward Youth + David Koff's Blacks Britannica

361 Stagg Street, Suite 407, Brooklyn

Introduced by Ashley Clark

Step Forward Youth, Menelik Shabazz, 1977, digital projection, 29 mins
Blacks Britannica, David Koff, 1978, digital projection, 57 mins

While Steve McQueen's brilliant and monumental Small Axe anthology (2020) shone a much needed and high profile light on overlooked black British history, numerous filmmakers have explored the community over the years with less fanfare. This pair of rarely screened documentary gems from the late 1970s proudly and clearly foregrounds the often violently suppressed voices of the nation's black population. Step Forward Youth is the first film by the trailblazing director and journalist Menelik Shabazz, who died in 2021. Made with the explicit intent of countering the British media's torrentially negative portrayals of young black people, Step Forward Youth carves crucial space for its cast of participants to speak openly about their hopes, fears, dreams, and lived experiences. "We lived in the shadows of Enoch Powell's speech predicting black immigration would lead to conflict and 'blood on our streets,'" wrote Shabazz of the context surrounding him when he was researching the film, aged just 21. "I was living in another reality of Malcolm X, Black Panthers, Angela Davis and George Jackson which was shaping my views about the world I wanted to change."

Initially commissioned by US public broadcaster WGBH Boston, and made by husband-and-wife team David Koff (white American) and Musindo Mwinyipembe (black British, born in Tanzania), the scorching Blacks Britannica offers a bluntly cogent analysis of structural racism. Featuring incisive contributions from activists and regular citizens, the film paints a devastating portrait of the ways that nearly every pillar of British society—from law enforcement to education to the media—conspired to construct a black underclass. Simultaneously galvanizing and tragically resonant—consider the appalling Windrush scandal, which revealed that hundreds of Commonwealth citizens had been detained, denied legal rights, and in many cases deported as a result of a 2012 Conservative government policy to systematically create and enforce a “hostile environment” for immigrants—Blacks Britannica struck so much of a nerve with the establishment that it has never been broadcast on British television, to this day.

- AC

Ashley Clark is the curatorial director at The Criterion Collection. Previously, he worked as director of film programming at Brooklyn Academy of Music. He has written film criticism for numerous publications, and his book Facing Blackness: Media and Minstrelsy in Spike Lee's Bamboozled is now available in a second edition published by The Film Desk.

Tickets - Pay what you can ($10 suggested donation), available at door.

Please note: seating is limited. First-come, first-served. Box office opens at 7pm. No entry 10 minutes after start of show.