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‘Pressure’: The ‘Mean Streets’ of Brixton

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Venturing out, Tony, the first-generation Briton, is exposed to Brixton life — suffering a painful job interview, a landlady’s racist diatribe and a Black preacher who urges his congregation to “drive all black thoughts from your hearts.” Alongside these set pieces, neorealist footage captures white reactions to the Black people they pass on the street. Indeed, the streets provide Tony’s education in double consciousness. “Learn how to thieve constructively — for the struggle,” Colin scolds him when Tony is naïvely caught up in a bungled shoplifting caper.

Colin likes to posture. His associate Sister Louise (the American actor Sheila Scott-Wilkinson) provides the speechifying. Her political line, racially aware and class-conscious — synthesizing the thinking of two Trinidadian activists Ové admired, the Black Power firebrand Stokely Carmichael and the internationalist historian C.L.R. James — brings down the power of the state in the form of riot police.

Tony’s awakening is triggered by the viciousness with which the police break up a political meeting, brutalize Sister Louise, arrest Colin and then, in a futile search for drugs, trash his family home. The destruction precipitates a bitter scene wherein, recognizing the futility of their “white dreams,” his parents turn on each other. The ending is abrupt.

Ové, who died in 2023, enjoyed a long career as a documentary filmmaker but directed only one other dramatic feature. “Playing Away,” released in the United States in 1987 (and findable on YouTube), is a comedy written by the Kittitian British novelist Caryl Phillips, positing a cricket match between a white club in London’s picturesque exurbs and a visiting Brixton team.

“Playing Away” is deceptively amiable, although, as if to signal an underlying rage, it gives an opening cameo to the volcanic Lucita Lijertwood, whose temper is a force of nature. (She’s an actor who could make Susie Essman wince.) “Playing Away” elaborates on C.L.R. James’s observation that “the cricket field was a stage on which selected individuals played representative roles which were charged with social significance.” The same might be said of Brixton, the stage in “Pressure.”

Pressure

Through May 26 at BAM Rose Cinemas in Brooklyn; bam.org.

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