Watch John Akomfrah’s essential 1986 documentary Handsworth Songs for free

Originally made in response to the social unrest in Birmingham and London in October 1985, John Akomfrah’s essential documentary, Handsworth Songs, has been made free to watch online by the Lisson Gallery until June 21.

This was Akomfrah’s debut feature, looking at the way the British police continually target and mistreat Black communities across the UK. The arrest of a man in relation to motoring offences and a police raid on the Villa Cross Inn in Birmingham in 1985 brought to the surface decades of frustration at the police’s oppressive treatment, with hundreds of locals taking to the streets in both Handsworth and Lozells in anger.

In London, the Tottenham riots began in response to the killing of Cynthia Jarrett, who died of heart failure after police raided her home in Broadwater Farm after falsely arresting her son Floyd for driving with an outdated tax disc. Floyd was charged with theft and assault but later cleared on both counts. As tensions grew and fighting broke out in the area, PC Keith Blakelock also lost his life.

As you will see, little has changed in the UK since the film was made 35 years ago, with the same concerns again being raised in 2020. As is the case with much of Akomfrah’s work, he delves into Britain’s colonial history and the ongoing challenges facing generations of Black and Asian communities who first arrived here 70-80 years ago to help rebuild the nation in the aftermath of World War II.

We would like to thank authors Hua Hsu and Jade Bentil for bringing this to our attention and would encourage everyone to set aside an hour of their time to watch this important documentary.

Steven Sheehan

Updated: Jun 16, 2020

Get involved
Continue the conversation over on The Digital Fix Forum
Watch John Akomfrah’s essential 1986 documentary Handsworth Songs for free | The Digital Fix