London: its vibrancy as a city is magnetic, always has been. A melting pot of cultures that entices, invites, beckons – ‘come as you are.’ For the LGBTQI+ community, London offered a place of relative freedom in the 1980s. For the punks of the 70s, the capital was a safe space to express, to dress. Mods, New Romantics, androgynous icons, all found their rhythm in the streets of London. Gritty, real and open, free, liberal, modern. This was the place where anyone could be anyone.
In a time when subcultures were multiplying and mutating enough for almost anyone to find their niche, there was another current seeping influence into each of these movements, perhaps setting the precedent. Caribbean and West Indian migration to the UK soared after the Second World War, and with it came a wealth of cultural influence. With people settling largely in London, the newcomers made an incredible contribution to the rebuilding of Britain’s post-war economy through their addition to the workforce. And the introduction of Reggae, Patois and the style and swagger of the Rude Boys formed a major repository of inspiration (and appropriation) for subcultures to come.
It’s this overlap of influences and influencers that is the focus for 1000 Londoners, a flagship project produced by Chocolate Films and created by founders Rachel Wang and Mark Currie. Over a decade, one thousand short documentaries will be made about Londoners to create an eclectic and original portrait of the city, each offering an honest glimpse into the life of a Londoner. The aim of the project is to reveal as many facets of the capital as possible, seeing city life from 1000 points of view.
As part of the parent project, the producers spotlighted the lives of five generations of Londoners with Caribbean heritage in a series of short film portraits called ‘Windrush Generations’. The profiles serve as a fascinating and remarkable insight into how vital the influence of Black British communities was on the fabric of London’s society and culture. The people profiled portray their overwhelming contribution to London as Londoners, often without any other labels than those. And their narratives aren’t punctuated with racism or defined by experiences of discrimination and otherness. Yes, bigotry features, but what features more so is the celebration of community and contribution, of integration and incorporation, of adapting and acclimatising on both sides of the story.
Take Kenny Lynch, as a comedian and singer Kenny toured with the Beatles and appeared in Carry On films. From Caribbean-Irish heritage, he was born in the East End in 1938 before the Windrush era. And it wasn’t until he was asked, age twenty-six, to perform at a Windrush concert that he learnt the meaning behind the word. Kenny explains how he felt acknowledged and accepted into London society, without having to label his background and heritage.
Stephen, a historian, primarily of Black Britain, reflects on his own experience of integration. Aunt Ester, he recalls, was adopted into his white working-class family when her father was killed. No questions asked, just simple humanity. To his point, society, headlines, reports, even history, should broaden its narrative, broaden the story. Include more than exclusive racism. Perhaps, he asks, is it not this government who has fuelled a racist memory?
The whole spectrum of accounts documented as part of the project pay homage to the eclectic and extensive experiences of those connected to the Windrush generation. And portrays London as a great facilitator, the place where possibility underpins everything. Even in the face of racial discrimination, London is a city that permits revolt and revolution, as much then as it does today. Just as Dame Jocelyn Barrow pioneered race relations, persuading the retailers of Oxford Street to let Black people work on the shop floor as opposed to the stock-room. Just as Sara Burke, granddaughter of Jamaican immigrants who came to the UK during the Windrush era, led a protest in 2018 marching from Parliament Square to the Home Office.
You’ll know by now that at Heady Mix, our aim is to always present a myriad of experiences, to open the discussion to present all possible sides. It’s the brilliance of projects such as this one that feeds so fittingly into that narrative, to provide a porthole into normal lives without the hyperbole of headlines, to show reality. So whilst so much of what we read about the Windrush generation centres around the unjust, it’s worth considering how much of that stems from the government’s treatment of the community, especially in recent years, and is not always reflective of the reception from everyday people.
London. The city is, was, and will continue to be, a great leveller. Come as you are.
Watch all of the profiles now over on the project homepage, ‘Windrush Generations’: 1000 Londoners.
About the filmmaker
Rachel Wang and Mark Currie founded Chocolate Films in 2001, with a simple goal – to build a high-quality video production company with a clear social purpose. They are now a team of 26, based in London, Glasgow and Berlin. Chocolate Films aims to transform lives through film, by creating high-impact documentaries, promotional videos and event films for our clients and by empowering people through filmmaking workshops.