Written for the Rich Mix Centre - 20/10/2010
Director and writer, Marc Issacs, explores the growing levels of contention for the increase of immigrants in Britain. Using Barking, a town with one of the highest levels of immigration and a large BNP following, as his location, Issacs explores the multifaceted attitudes surrounding race and immigration in 21st century Britain.
Issacs portrays his characters with startling honesty and originality. Far from the stock BNP fanatics we have become accustomed to seeing in the media, Issacs’ approach is far more clever than that. His subjects are engaging people dealing with the same issues and living the same lives as everybody else. We are presented with three dimensional, and sometimes contradictory, characters such as the Dave, a BNP activist, with a mixed race grandson who he openly shows love and affection for. Or Sue, who despite her prejudices (which are later challenged) against ‘Africans’, instantly becomes more accessible when mourns over the grave of her son. Through this, we are able to glimpse at the complexity of human nature and the unfounded roots of people’s pre-conceptions.
Issacs explores the concept of ‘otherness’ and the ambiguous and blurry grey lines in which people’s prejudices lie. Dave will happily defend the Italian residents in the area whilst airing unfounded suspicion over the unsuspecting ‘African’ lady passing by on the street. Sue has no qualms about her white Albanian neighbours whilst bringing out tired stereotypical clichés about African culture and her Nigerian neighbours.
What is clear is that these characters are not fundamentally racist, but their attitudes are based on fear of the ‘other’ and an anxiety that a different way of life will somehow dilute their own. All White in Barking feels less about blatant racism and more a modern depiction of the inner psyche of ordinary people and so it becomes impossible to entirely dislike or chastise these characters. Although we may not agree with their views, we can’t hate them as they leave political correctness at the door and discuss the issues that many are afraid to broach on a public platform. How are we supposed to feel about the closure of the butchers shop, a landmark that has had a staple presence in the community for over 40 years? The insinuation made is that the increase in competition has run the local butcher’s out of business, as the new ones seem to better cater for the increase of different cultures of the area. Issacs dangles these issues in front of us without judgement or indication of how these matters can or should be resolved.
Issacs leaves us in an interesting place by the end of the film. Sue and Jeff, after having spoken more to their Nigerian neighbours, are realistically not fundamentally changed, but can see the other side of coin. On the other hand, Dave, in objection to the influx of immigrants in the neighbourhood, moves from the ‘other’ to ‘his own people’ in Canvey Island. The last shot we see of him is him by himself on an isolated beach whilst the couple Sue and Jeff are surrounded by new acquaintances. Despite the non-judgemental stance that Issacs generally adapts throughout the duration, the documentary seems to favour those who have the ability to modify their judgements, leaving those who can’t behind in the shadows.
All White in Barking is an important documentary, combining honest dialogue and dry humour to bring to light the questions raised over the changing face of Britain. Although set in Barking, this is a universal film for the UK, that challenges the future of those who cannot adapt to the new and emerging DNA of modern day Britain.