White Riot

Movie review by
Alistair Lawrence, Common Sense Media
White Riot Movie Poster Image
Docu about British bands' fight against racism has swearing.
  • NR
  • 2020
  • 80 minutes

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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

How music can bring people together to help fight against bigotry, racism, white supremacy, and societal injustice. Caution is urged against modern-day racism. The campaigners show great perseverance, courage, and integrity. Racist behavior is depicted in archive footage, but it's made clear that such behavior is unacceptable and should not be tolerated.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Musicians and activists recount how they came together to campaign against the U.K.'s racist National Front organization. Racist politicians call for repatriation. Multiracial groups unite against racism. A mix of male and female campaigners tell their stories. Lesbian and gay voices represented. Famous musicians put aside their egos to support smaller artists.


Archive footage of fighting and scuffles at concerts and National Front protests. Some scenes of racism, including archive footage of racists making "Seig Heil" Nazi salutes and chanting. Non-white Britons talk about how they were persecuted. A participant recounts an injury suffered during a racist attack.


"F--k," "f---ing," "s--t," "bastard," "bloody," and "c--t." Racial epithets such as "black face," "yellow face," and "brown face," the "N" word, and "P--i" are also heard.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

In archive footage, both concert attendees and the artists performing are seen drinking and smoking cigarettes.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that White Riot is a documentary about how punk, reggae, and ska music powered a movement against racism in the U.K. during the 1970s. Despite some depressing reminders of how prominent racism was at the time, the movie gives voice to plenty of strong role models who talk about why racism is wrong, damages society, and what can be accomplished by people from all walks of life working together. The violence is low-level but shows clashes between racists and others at concerts, as well as between protesters and police at various marches. A non-white British war veteran also recounts how he was injured when rocks were thrown through his shop's window by racist attackers. In addition to some strong language -- "f--k" and "c--t" -- racial epithets are heard in archive footage, as well interviews as people recount some of the names they've been called. Alcohol and cigarettes have a mild presence throughout, as archive footage occasionally shows people smoking and drinking, although not to excess.

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What's the story?

WHITE RIOT is a documentary about music and racism in the U.K. during the 1970s. It retells the story of how the "Rock Against Racism" movement was founded and grown by a multiracial group of Britons who wanted to repel the racist groups and politicians of their day.

Is it any good?

Both a history lesson and a timely reminder of how we live now, this is a low-budget but impeccably focused documentary about a period in British history that should not be forgotten. Giving a voice to the activists who fought against the U.K.'s fascist National Front by channeling the communal power of music, notable ska and reggae acts are rightfully presented as being equally important as the punk artists who feature. While the archive footage of racist politicians and indifferent senior police officers is unpleasant viewing, it is vital to help understand how Britain was changing by becoming multiracial and how the establishment seemed weary to engage or make sense of it.

Archive footage of white punk musicians talking about how their local communities often wanted to marginalize their own young people and stop them engaging with other cultures is important, too, as it helps White Riot expose the fundamental fear that lets racist opportunists stir up trouble and flourish -- and how these people can be stopped. All of which makes for a triumphant but cautionary tale, with a pretty good soundtrack, too.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about some of the racist incidents discussed in White Riot? How did they make you feel? Do you think things have improved today? If not, why not? How to talk with kids about racism and racial violence.

  • The campaigners in the documentary show great courage, integrity, and perseverance. Why are these such good character strengths to have? Can you think of a time when you've demonstrated these traits?

  • Why do you think music was so effective in fighting back against racism? Does hearing something in a song help you understand another person's point of view better?

  • In the 1970s there was no social media. How did the campaigners organize themselves without it? How does that compare with anti-racism movements today?

  • In what ways are documentaries useful tools for telling people's stories? What are the best documentaries that you've seen?

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