TV & Movies

Uprising is a ‘rallying call’ for British public to acknowledge the past says McQueen

Uprising: BBC releases trailer for Steve McQueen film

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Uprising is currently airing on BBC and the documentary series explores three tragic events, and the people surrounding them, in 1981. Director Steve McQueen and producer James Rogan detailed why the documentary was so important for them to examine and how they plan on changing the conversation regarding race relations in the United Kingdom. In an exclusive interview with Express.co.uk, McQueen highlighted the importance of the series, not just for the black community, but for the British public who have long ignored the historic events.

The new three-part documentary series Uprising debuted on BBC One on July 20 and the series explored three seismic events from 1981.

Uprising explores the New Cross house fire which took place in January 1981, and the Black People’s Day of Action which was the first organised black protest, taking place in March that year.

The series then concluded with an examination of the Brixton riots a few months later, which was a confrontation between the police and black protesters and was later dubbed ‘Bloody Saturday’.

The horrific tragedies of 1981 have had a lasting impact on the black community across the UK and the country’s little knowledge of the events inspired McQueen to bring the events to the public’s attention.

In the 40 years since the events, real survivors worked closely with McQueen and Rogan to shine a real light on a moment in British history that has too long been ignored and forgotten.

During a Q&A ahead of the series premiere, McQueen revealed the reason he was desperate to make the series.

He said: “These events were just pivotal moments and were moments that somehow got brushed underneath the carpet for the broader, wider public and they needed to come out into the light.

“These are historical moments, not just for black British people, but for British people in general, because these events have reverberated throughout the nation.

“We need to shine a light on it [and], as filmmakers, we needed to give it the platform it deserved.”

After his acclaimed Small Axe film series was released last year, which focused on the real lives of the West Indian immigrants in London from the 1960s to the 1980s, McQueen was determined to shed a light on the troubling times in 1981.

The New Cross Fire occurred during a house party in New Cross, south-east London and, during the early hours of the morning, the blaze claimed the lives of 13 black teenagers and another survivor took their own life a few years later.

No one was ever charged and John La Rose established the New Cross Massacre Action Committee (NCMAC) in the aftermath, which led to the Black People’s Day of Action protest on March 2, 1981, with over 20,000 people marching through London.

Following the protest, the Brixton riot was held between April 10 and April 12, 1981, and resulted in 299 injuries to the Metropolitan police and 65 to members of the public, and over 82 arrests were made.

These tragic events ignited an uprising amongst the young members of the black British community and has been described as a significant turning point in the relationship between the black community and the police, as well as for race relations for an entire generation.

Director and producer Rogan explained the importance of the events in Britain’s history, as well as the importance of the BBC making the decision to air the series in a primetime slot.

He said: “Britain needs to acknowledge these experiences. I think the BBC, by putting it on at nine o’clock, you know, in a primetime slot, it’s saying we are now in a space where we are actually going to listen.”

“It’s a rallying call. That’s what Uprising is about, it’s alive and kicking,” McQueen remarked, noting that the British public should be ready to revisit its past.

He also stated that now was the right time for the series, noting: “I think what we attempted to do was to bring it into the present because if it’s not within the present, there’s no point in doing this.”

The 12 Years A Slave director also explained that the murder of George Floyd in 2020 and the subsequent Black Lives Matter protests have made the series, and the timing of its release, more relevant than ever.

“So it’s up to us as filmmakers to sort of hold this up to the public,” McQueen added.

Rogan commended the BBC for “what they’ve done in the support they’ve given us”.

“This is a moment where we actually say yes, this happened. This is part of history,” the producer added.

“Look at the extraordinary bravery on display from the people who survived this and the people who fought for a better, more equal, more fair Britain.”

For viewers watching the series, McQueen hoped that people were open to learning about the events and its effect on the black community, as well as thinking, “We could possibly do something,” about events today.

The director explained that originally “people were blind” and “just didn’t want to see it”, however, he was hopeful that the public was now open to learning and acknowledging the events of 1981.

Uprising continues tonight on BBC One at 9pm, and all episodes will be available on BBC iPlayer from July 20.

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