Last week, the Oscars provided a surprisingly diverse list of nominees, with Jordan Peele’s Get Out being nominated for an impressive four awards.
BAME representation in Hollywood is a hot topic, especially in the wake of #OscarsSoWhite and the triumph of Moonlight at last year’s ceremony. In the UK, too, the mainstream media landscape still lacks representation, especially when this comes to television. This is why Amrou Al-Kadhi – writer and director, drag performer, and queer activist – made Clash, a short film forcing us to confront with our queer colonial history.
Back in the 1940s, filmmakers such as Humphrey Jennings used their short films to perpetuate the myth of national unity during the Second World War. As Jim Leach notes in Documenting the Documentary: Close Readings of Documentary Film and Video, Jennings’ propaganda film Listen to Britain (1942) helped reinforce the ‘British Imperial Myth’ which still persists today. Currently, our biggest TV exports in the UK are period dramas such as Downton Abbey and The Crown, which have fared well at oversees awards ceremonies such as the Golden Globes and the Emmys. However, in upholding these white, imperial narratives from our past, they erase our colonial history and the queer people of colour that make up Britain today.
Writer and director Amrou Al-Kadhi responds directly to Listen to Britain (1942) and explores the issues surrounding nostalgic heritage cinema, by interspersing interviews about multiculturalism in the present day with staged period-drama sequences. The interviewees express concerns about their ‘Britishness’ post-referendum and are primarily concerned with representation. In particular, artist Travis Alabanza speaks about the whitewashing of the queer scene in the mainstream gay media. There are few instances where LGBTQPOC citizens are found on TV, if any at all: ‘I don’t see myself on British screens’, remarks one interviewee. Staged period sequences provide an interesting contrast, queering the period drama tradition by employing diverse queer artists and performers. Pulsating neon lights evoke London’s bustling queer nightclub scene and, as Alabanza – dressed in an elaborate Georgian dress – raises their croquet mallet triumphantly, the myth of national unity provided by Jennings back in 1942 is challenged.
Clash reminds us of our imperial, racist, and classist roots – and convincingly puts forwards the case that acknowledging our colonial past in our film, TV, and media can help marginalised communities better integrate into society today.
Watch the full film on the BFI Player for free, here.
Words by Liam Taft