With recent events taking place in Ferguson, Missouri and across the country, with many Americans of color demonstrating against racial profiling and gun violence, many of us would rather avoid the subject entirely and escape. There has been victim-blaming, deflecting, and detracting going on, and while we must wait for facts to come clean as well as people to come clean, there are many things that need to be discussed. Last Thursday, Representative Marcia Fudge spoke in Akron saying that we need to have an honest conversation about race, racism, and inequality.
In American society, that is hard to come by as it is an elephant in the room for those not experiencing it, and from that perspective, being easily silenced for bringing the subject up. Though our various means of entertainment have made more recent efforts to bring the subject up and create discussion, many attempts have fallen by the wayside.
In 1961, Great Britain’s Roy Ward Baker, who later became famous for directing and producing 1973’s The Sting, made a film in England exploring the subject of race and racism. The film was based on a 1958 play by Ted Wills, and it was called Flame In The Streets.
The film stars John Mills, Sylvia Syms, Brenda de Branzie, Earl Cameron, and Johnny Sekko. The film is about a union head, Jacko Palmer (Mills) who is trying to stop a bunch of members of his union from denying a West Indian British man, Gabe Gomez (Cameron) a promotion because of his skin color. The furniture factory where they work seems to be a mostly friendly establishment, but there are younger workers who bully the Britains of color, and there are older workers who believe that the promotion should go to “someone who has put in their work.” As this is happening, Jacko’s daughter, Kathie (Syms) is having a relationship with a Jamaican British man named Peter Lincoln (Sekko) and wants to bring him home. In the Gomez household, Gabe is worried that if he attends the union meeting tonight, it might be dangerous. His wife, a white British woman named Judy (Ann Lynn) advises that he go because he’s earned the right to one. At the meeting, Jacko convinces the union that Gabe is worthy of his promotion, and that prejudice is wrong to factor into the equation as to why. Just then, his wife, Nell (de Branzie) comes in and tells him about Kathie, and Jacko is convinced he must talk his daughter out of marriage with Peter Lincoln. How it ends is very compelling.
What is amazing about this film is that it does not hold back on anything. It rips the scabs of racism down for all to see and be the judge of. It is a daring film for its time, and it is extremely relevant, even given its time and place. If we cannot bring ourselves to converse about race, we can watch films like these and have reasonable discussions afterwards.