The next instalment in our Windrush short film series is another from Black Apron Productions, and their project ‘Windrush Generations’. Carmen has a chronological narrative. The film retells a grandmother’s story through the voice of her granddaughter. Filled with kind authority, unconditional love and understanding, the depiction of this strong-headed matriarch gives off a recognisable of warmth. This is someone, the audience knows, who embodies patience and empathy, an example of the very best in society.
Yet as the story meanders through the cornerstones of Carmen’s life in England, the narrator reveals the unbelievable injustice that in 2018, became a reality for so many. Migrating from the Caribbean to a steady job as a cook within a care home for white, elderly residents, Carmen deflects racist insults with an armoury of compassion. Her granddaughter proudly reflects that her resilience is founded in the companionship the two of them have, a comfort so many of the residents do not. Carmen’s dedication and commitment to her life in the supposed Motherland resonates hard through this film, and it makes the news that arrives by letter – of borrowing summaries and document requests, even more harrowing.
At Heady Mix, we felt it was hugely important to share the story of Carmen, because although fictionalised, the narrative represents so many gut-wrenching experiences of those robbed by a retracted invite, a second-thought, a change of heart. Except this decision wasn’t related to what dinner plans to make or party to attend, this was a cold-hearted, ignorant policy which actively ruled to make those once so welcomed into this country, no longer wanted. As though purpose had been served and had now expired.
Of around 550,000 people from the Caribbean who migrated to the UK between 1948 and 1973, roughly 50,000 who were still in the UK, may not have regularised their residency status, according to information from the Migration Observatory at Oxford University. But when the initial appeal had come from the British government, a call to arms addressing the Commonwealth, to help the Motherland recover from the Second World War, many of the invite recipients and their children arrived without passports or documents that officiated them as British citizens. Of course, at the time this fact was overlooked, it wasn’t important. What mattered was getting fixed what needed fixing, getting the UK economy back up and running, and rebuilding infrastructure which put the country firmly back at the top of the global pecking order.
Fast forward fifty years, and many of those who had arrived as children, without the proper officiation, were now adults with lives of their own deeply rooted into the only country they’d really ever known as home. The ambition of both parties had been realised, these people had become much valued members of British society, but in the eyes of the government’s new hardliner policies, this wasn’t enough.
Unbearably, stories like Carmen’s echoed through the Windrush community in the first half of 2018. Stories like that of Albert Thompson, who had lived in London for 44 years after having arrived from Jamaica as a teenager. Mr Thompson went for his first radiotherapy session for prostate cancer only to be told that unless he could produce a British passport he would be charged £54,000 for the treatment. Despite having worked as a mechanic and paid taxes for more than three decades, Mr Thompson’s free healthcare was denied, and he was evicted, leading him to be homeless for three weeks.
Outcry ricochet across the public, with campaigners calling for justice. But of course, the damage was already done. From deportation and detention centres, to rebates for eyewatering sums – the government had succeeded in rupturing identities and belonging beyond repair. In a complete disregard for decades of contribution, this cabinet had pinned all emphasis entirely on paper documents. Quantifying so called ‘Britishness’ in a person’s ability to produce papers that had before now never been required. The fluidity of nationality between England and her empire that had once been encouraged, had now frozen over.
Once the pressure mounted beyond what could be ignored, the government began to backtrack on its crimes. Amongst ceremonies and awards, campaigns and fickle apologies, there was financial compensation pots. The official counts say that more than 160 members of the Windrush generation may have been wrongly detained or deported. But more than 1,270 claims have been made to a compensation scheme. A stark reminder of how just how many of those once so welcomed, were shunned by a country they’d called home.
And it’s frightening, that despite living a world where nationality is so much broader than where you born, where so many of us have a bloodline that crosses countries and continents, still our sense of belonging can be threatened by a sweep of policy changes. A tick box removed from a form, a yes turned to no, a door once open now firmly shut.
So, whilst much has been done to help right the horrific wrongs, for us here at Heady Mix – curating a collection related to Windrush, also meant sharing the reality of a crisis. More than just fictionalised accounts from those who impacted by the scandal, here too are the real people: robbed, rejected, refused.
About the filmmaker
Black Apron Entertainment is a London-based film and theatre production company, co-founded by Lynette Linton, Daniel M. Bailey & Gino Ricardo Green. Back in 2014, the trio decided to combine and pursue their creative endeavours under one collective brand.
While continuing their own individual development, the trio has produced a collection of short films, theatre productions, music videos and other creative pieces. Passages: A Windrush Celebrations showcase curated by Lynette Linton and produced by Black Apron Entertainment in association with The Royal Court Theatre and Christopher Haydon.
Seven short films written, directed and performed by industry professionals of Caribbean and West Indian heritage. The films were inspired by the Windrush scandal, and the impact and influence of Caribbean and West Indian settlers in Britain.