Babylon and the Road to Diversity
Babylon is a 1980 film that deals with racism and integration from the viewpoint of the black community trying to live in London. A true snapshot of what Britain was like as a cultural melting pot ready to burst into violence, which preempted the Brixton riots.
The financing for the film was incredibly tough to put into place with compromises being met on every aspect of production but it eventually managed to get finished but had a very limited release and quickly disappeared due to the fact that the cinemas were resistant in showing it due to concerns of commercial viability. As the main cinema chains controlled the vast majority of the theaters there were very few alternative avenues for this film to find its audience but it eventually did get a minuscule release and subsequently sank without a trace. Remember, this was before Channel 4 was launched which showcased diverse talents such as Hanif Kureshi and other like minded angry people getting a chance to make their mark. Babylon was simply ahead of its time.
Fast forward to the advent of the home video boom, it gained a new lease of life on VHS tapes in mainly black communities during the 80’s. Often in very poor quality it stayed an underground must see for those that felt mainstream programming was not representing their community enough.
This in itself dispels the myth that there was no audience and considering Ken Loach regularly had his films financed and released and these dealt with social issues in the same vein as Babylon. It seems that nobody wanted to light the touch paper in 1980 and nobody was brave enough to push the film to find its audience in its initial release. Today it is different when it comes to releasing “edgy” films to the marketplace.
Thankfully, in recent years Babylon has been rediscovered and celebrated with a fresh transfer for DVD as a time capsule of an uncomfortable era.
Why am I talking about a film made over thirty years ago and what relevance has it to what’s happening now? Basically nothing has changed, go to the cinema or switch on the TV and the same people and taste makers still give very few avenues for diversity and the next generation of filmmakers who want to make the same social awareness films are still finding it hard to get the relevant platforms. The odd breakout like Kidulthood comes in but there is nothing to compliment it in the marketplace. There have been small pockets such as Hanif’s films (courtesy of Channel 4 and BBC), Flight, about an Indian woman who runs away from her arranged marriage, which is criminally ignored to name but a few.
Same as the Brixton and Southall riots in the 80’s the 2011 summer riots was waiting to happen and nobody outside the black community knew it was coming until it was too late. Kidulthood and its sequel came close but bordered on caricature and urban melodrama rather than a genuine angry insight into contemporary London. The only difference about now is that with the Internet age we can address the balance to a certain degree in getting your ideas out there without being bound or stifled by the big broadcasters but to make something presentable you still need money and it’s back to the same old cap-in-hand approach and who holds the purse strings?
As long as there is an imbalance in contemporary London and as long as the people’s voices aren’t heard we need to push by any means necessary to get our voices heard