GenreDrama ScreenplayHorace Ove, Samuel Selvon CountryUnited Kingdom
Release date19 October 1976 (1976-10-19) (TIFF)
November 1976 (1976-11) (United States) WriterHorace Ove (screenplay), Samuel Selvon (screenplay) CastHerbert Norville (Tony), Oscar James (Colin), Corinne Skinner-Carter Similar moviesBabylon (1981)
Pressure is a 1976 British drama film and the first feature-length fiction film directed by a Black film-maker in Britain. Directed by Horace Ové, and co-written by him with Samuel Selvon, Pressure is a powerful portrait of inter-generational tensions between first- and second-generation West Indian migrants in London's Notting Hill area. According to Julia Toppin,
Pressure is a product of its time, but the issues and themes it explores remain relevant to the black experience in Britain today, including the cycle of educational deprivation, poverty, unemployment and antisocial behaviour. The depiction of police harassment and the controversial 'sus' (suspicion) laws is echoed by the similar, and equally controversial, 'Stop and Search' policy of today. The film also explores media under-reporting and misrepresenting of black issues and protests. ...Pressure remains a key Black British film, which helps to demonstrate how modern multi-cultural Britain was shaped.
The film highlighted how the media intentionally twisted the way events unfolded and described events in ways that favoured the whites, rather than explaining what truly occurred. In the film, there was a scene when police raided a black power gathering without any warrant or reason to believe members were participating in illegal activities. Officers beat up black political activists, carrying bats and bringing in dogs, and arrested the activists for no reason. When Tony and members of the black power movement listened to the news, the story the media told described how six policemen were violently beaten up in a demonstration and three were seriously injured and hospitalized. According to the media’s account, the police were not the ones at fault—the black people were. There was no mention of how the black people were seriously and unjustifiably beaten up by the police, how no one called an ambulance for them or how the police arrested the black activists with no evidence.
The film also focused on discrimination in the work field. Although the main character, Tony, graduated at the top of his class and was qualified for many jobs, he struggled to find employment in a prejudiced society that favored whites. The film demonstrated how black people were stuck in a system that held them back and prevented them from reaching their aspirations and achieving the jobs they deserved, so they had to settle for minimal jobs or no job.
The film follows the story of a British, black teenager named Anthony who goes by the nickname of "Tony". Tony was born and raised in Britain while the rest of his family — his mother, father, and older brother — were born in Trinidad. This affects the family members' viewpoints about the society they live in. Tony’s mother says they, as blacks, must work hard, mind their business and respect white people’s laws because the whites have the power. The film shows how the older generations are satisfied with living in a society ruled by the white English, which differs from the views of the younger generation. There is a disconnect between the way Tony feels about Britain and the way that his family feels, specifically his brother. Tony’s brother is active in the black power movement and is constantly discussing how blacks are treated as second-class citizens who are faced with racism in an unjust societal system. He stresses the idea of a collective effort on behalf of the blacks, as black encompasses their culture and consciousness and they must spread this consciousness. He emphasises how blacks must organise politically to deal with the situation themselves, since the government is not on their side. Tony tries to assimilate into the white-dominated society that surrounds him as well as fit in with his own family and their traditions. However, as Tony tries to assimilate and maintain his faith in a British society where he can progress, he is continuously faced with obstacles.
Tony goes dancing with a white friend and then goes back to her apartment, and a white adult screams that if he does not leave she will call the police, and that the white girl should feel ashamed for bringing back a black boy. When Tony attends one of his brother’s meetings, he sees the mistreatment of blacks firsthand. Police enter the meeting forcefully and with no warrant or reason, arresting and beating up the blacks. Then, police tear apart Tony’s family’s home, searching for non-existent drugs. In addition to this, throughout the film, Tony cannot find a job that matches his educational qualifications. Events like these bring to light the forces of oppression and lead to Tony’s disillusionment with a just English society. Tony also struggles with his identity, as a black child born in England to West-Indian parents. He has a difficult time relating to his brother who was not born in Europe, while he also cannot relate to his white friends, who do not share his obstacles in England. Tony’s brother feels that all whites are evil. Tony comes to his own conclusions based on his experiences, declaring that many white people are in the same position that they, as blacks, are in, since only a handful of white people hold all the power. These whites just do not realise they are in the same position as the blacks. Pressure goes into the experience of living black in Britain during the 1970s; the film touches on the issues of poor education, poverty, and unemployment that those who were black living in Britain faced during that time period.
Herbert Norville as Tony
Oscar James as Colin
Frank Singuineau as Lucas
Lucita Lijertwood as Bopsie
Sheila Scott-Wilkinson as Sister Lousie
Ed Devereaux as Police Inspector
T-Bone Wilson as Junior
Ramjohn Holder as Brother John
Norman Beaton as Preacher
Consciousness: If Tony is born in Britain does that make him a white man? No matter how much Tony embraces the “white or British culture” he is most familiar with, he cannot escape the inequalities he faces solely based on the colour of his skin. Originally he resists his brother’s attempts at getting him to embrace Black Power politics, until a woman tells him that consciousnesses means to accept that you are Black, while individualism is a white man’s desire. White men desire quiet assimilation, but that is impossible and allows for racism to be ignored. In order for things to change, Tony must find a way to fully accept his consciousness, colour, and culture. Only when he fully realises his blackness will he be able to mobilise.
The White Man: Once Tony joins the Black Power movement, he not only understands and acknowledges much of the Black Power ideals he becomes familiar enough to challenge some. Namely, a Black Power activist’s radicalist view that all white men are the enemy. Although Tony agrees with his statement that it is "white people" who own Britain, he interprets it as really saying that only a handful of white people hold all the power. The economic undertones in institutionalised power relations cannot be overlooked. Many white people have, in actuality, been colonised and enslaved as well in their own country, but unlike black people they are oblivious to their oppression.
Racism is evident at the beginning of this movie, specifically when Tony goes to interview for a job. The hiring manager is first surprised that “Watson” belongs to a Black person. He then comments on Tony’s 0-levels as well as his work experience but still inquires about which country Tony is from. This section of the film highlighted the status-quo at that time. It reveals that one’s Blackness overshadowed his accomplishments and one’s race seems to be the most important factor in determining whether a Black person at that time got a job.
The theme of identity appears throughout the film. Tony struggles to balance his Trinidadian background with the British culture he was brought up in. Tony’s brother ridicules Tony for how British he is because of the food he eats, the way he dresses and the way he speaks. Throughout the film Tony struggles to live freely as a black British man. He constantly has to prove how British he is to white people in Great Britain. At the job interview the employer questions Tony about his personal life to know how much he knows about British culture.
The film was shelved for almost three years by its funders, the British Film Institute (BFI), ostensibly because it contained scenes showing police brutality.