UK Cult Classic Babylon Is A Passionate Foray into the Xenophobic 1980s
Originally shown in 1980 at the Cannes Film Festival Critics’ Week, one UK film shocked the world and has since become a cult classic in cinema. However, because of its controversial racial tension and a raw, unfiltered look at the social ostracizing of blacks in the country, Franco Rosso and Martin Stellman’s Babylon was rated “X” and was deemed too controversial to be seen in the United States. Fearing an incitement of a racial uprising from the content of the film, this movie was never released stateside — until now.
Through house distributors Kino Lorber Repertory and Seventy-Seven, Babylon has been properly updated with sharper visuals and it even sports subtitles for North American audiences to better understand the language and slang spoken in the film. But how does this 40-year-old movie stand the test of time?
In my personal view, Babylon is an extremely powerful film that shows a community at war to retain its identity in the face of racism. Our story focuses on Rastafarian DJ Blue (Brinsley Forde) and his group “Ital Lion” as they move up the ranks to become the most prominent reggae group in the city. Blue and his Jamaican bandmates and friends are talented musicians and music lovers who form a tight-knit group that gets into many antics.
While the performances of these characters aren’t memorable or noteworthy (outside of the group’s “muscle,” Beefy (Trevor Laird)), it is the authentic portrayal of the Jamaican community that impresses me the most. Additionally, surrounding this culture and the film’s various settings is an amazing soundtrack filled with lots of Rastafarian and reggae music, easily making the viewer feel like they themselves are a part of the community. It is this strong communal strength and its eventual clash with the outside world that make this film a cult classic.
In fact, the racial tension in this film is quite harrowing for a film from the 80s. Many derogatory terms are used to describe blacks (i.e. “porch monkeys”) and there are bouts of police brutality and assault. While the Jamaican characters are trying to focus on their music and families, some of the white citizens of London detest these young men and do anything to disrupt their creative goals. What is even more terrifying is the fact that, in some ways, this portrayal of society isn’t too farfetched from our own modern world. This not only makes the film relevant for today’s audience, but it also reminds us of the battles that we are still fighting as people of color and as a society 40 years later. As portrayed in the film, the unity of the black social circle is constantly being disrupted and tested by outside forces that wish to see these minorities disappear. It is a constant battle that has to be fought by the characters and the Jamaican community.
But thankfully, the film’s resolution is one of standing against injustice with love and embracing one’s culture to make our communities and our world better. So while there is this fight of seeking one’s identity in the face of inequality, the film shows the viewer that unity brings them their identity. We can understand who we are in this world by joining like-minded individuals who seek to spread love, joy, and peace instead of xenophobia and intolerance. In this way and more, Rosso and Stellman’s Babylon is a film that must be experienced by all audiences.
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