A Neglected Reggae Classic Finally Gets Its Due

After premiering at Cannes in 1980, Franco Rosso’s Babylon was suppressed both in its native England and abroad for fear that it would inflame racial tensions, a fate that resulted in decades of obscurity. But over the years this reggae-fueled drama has won its share of ardent fans, and a recent, long-overdue theatrical release in the U.S. has put it back in the spotlight. In a new, in-depth conversation featured on the Criterion Channel, where Babylon makes its exclusive streaming premiere today, two of the film’s most passionate champions explain why this immersive look at sound-system culture in South London deserves to be counted among British cinema’s most essential portraits of the immigrant experience. Critic and programmer Ashley Clark, who presented Babylon at the Brooklyn Academy of Music earlier this year, contextualizes the movie within the history of the “Windrush” generation, a wave of Caribbean immigrants who arrived in the U.K. between the 1940s and the ’70s and faced systemic racism throughout British society. Clark moderates this discussion with special guest Vivien Goldman, a veteran journalist and musician who worked with some of the most legendary figures in reggae in the ’70s (including Bob Marley) and wrote a notable critical appreciation of the film for Time Out magazine. Check out an excerpt from their conversation in the clip above, then head to the Channel to watch the program in full along with our presentation of Babylon.

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