“The film asks why an accused killer in a police uniform is not judged by the same standards as the rest of society. Injustice documents the horrific loss of life at the hands of the state and its attempts to cover up these killings”. Ken Fero
African Odysseys presents a collection of films which speak to the Black Lives Matter movement in the UK and the world.
Now in its 14th year, our African Odysseys programme strand often champions polemical films which challenge the status quo. Utilising the expertise of community activists, the programme has long dealt with the subject of police brutality and institutional racism. The reaction to the murder of George Floyd has catapulted these issues back into the mainstream agenda. However, the UK is not ‘innocent’ and independently produced civil-rights films from Ceddo and Migrant Media (featured in this season) were banned. Such titles were selected for the 2018 African Odysseys’ Black and Banned season. Director Ken Fero’s seminal films (of Migrant Media) along with panel discussions were featured in the African Odysseys strand in 2014. BFI revisits the Black struggle for human and civil rights and link it with the international fight against racial injustice, with titles from as far afield as Australia and Brazil. Fero is a UK documentary filmmaker, political activist and co-founder of production company Migrant Media. Alt spoke to Ken ahead of the opening of the programme and Injustice September: Book here for your Injustice Tickets. ( Main image: Injustice screens Saturday 05 September 2020 14:15NFT1) UK 2001 Dir Ken Fero, Tariq Mehmood 98min
1. When you made Injustice almost 20 years ago did you think it would be as relevant today as it was then?
We made Injustice in the hope that it would raise the issue of these human rights abuses – the deaths of people at the hands of the police in the UK. It did have a major impact but we know that, historically and into the future, these deaths have and will happen unless people organise. The message of the film, that a group of Black women took control of their struggles for justice against the state, is a universal message. The need for oppressed people to resist against injustice is a timeless message and one that gives people hope. The need for justice is as relevant now as it was then. It’s nearly 20 years since Injustice was released and the impact of the film continues despite the attempts from police officers who tried to suppress the film by threatening libel action (which we defeated thanks to the support of many thousands of people across the world). UK broadcasters refused to screen Injustice (despite the films many festival awards, a national theatrical release by the BFI and international television broadcasts from South Africa to Iran to New Zealand) but the power of the film is still very raw and pertinent after all this time.
2. What has led you to make documentaries on social injustice?
Migrant Media is a collective of radical film makers embedded with communities of social and political interest and from black and migrant backgrounds. Our work has a focus on race and class with a central narrative of resistance. Much of the work we are involved with centres around the struggles for justice of our communities in Britain. Migrant Media was created because mainstream medias were completely ignoring, or distorting, the experiences of our communities. We felt that the reality of what was happening needed to be documented and this became our starting point. Our work has always included a very wide range of people from the different black, migrant and refugee communities and this is obvious if you see any of the films we produce. Migrant Media operates as a collective with equality across our practice and presentations. We operate collectively with death in custody family campaigns sharing decisions and visions in a unified way. This working method is a practice that we follow in all our production work.
3. For anyone who does not know what Injustice is about please share the back story and how you came to be involved?
In 1969 David Oluwale became the first black person to die in police custody in Britain. Many others have died since then. None of the police officers involved have been convicted of these deaths. In this documentary, the families of these victims ask, “Why not?” This is a blow by blow account of the relentless struggles of the families as they find out how they lost their loved ones in extremely violent deaths at the hands of police officers. Each family is met with a wall of official secrecy and the film documents how they unite and challenge this together. The documentary uses powerful exclusive footage filmed over a five-year period and witnesses the family’s pain and anger at the killings. It documents the fight to retrieve the bodies for burial, the mockery of police self-investigation and the collusion of the legal system in the deaths. The film asks why an accused killer in a police uniform is not judged by the same standards as the rest of society. Injustice documents the horrific loss of life at the hands of the state and its attempts to cover up these killings. The British police have been responsible for hundreds of deaths and have walked free. The families of the dead want justice and they will not stop until they have got it.
Winner Best Documentary – BFM London Film Festival 2002, Winner National Social Justice
Award 2003, Winner Best Documentary (Human Rights) – One World Film Festival 2003,
Winner New Nation Campaign group of the Year 2004.
4. What do you think the UK can learn from the death of George Floyd?
We can learn nothing new from the George Floyd murder in terms of the behaviour of US police and the failure of the criminal justice system as this has been going on for hundreds of years now. What we can learn is that the resistance to these killing is growing and that is manifested in the Black Live Matter movement. In the UK there is a mainstream reluctance to accept that these killing also happen here, but they do. They are just as brutal, and our work is evidence of that. What needs to happen in the UK is a political willingness to look at the cases we have had here and to deal with them. Until these long-standing cases of injustice are dealt with properly, and by that we mean the officers and their commanders go to criminal trials for the killings, everything else is just talk. Many people are tweeting ‘The UK is not innocent’ but in reality, the UK is already guilty, so people need to stop using soft language and honour the dead by opening these cases and being honest about what has happened in the past. If we do not address these long-standing cases, then we are accepting that the UK is guilty of human rights abuses and has gotten away with it. This cannot be.