Published on 23 Jan 2024
Justice4Windrush Film: How We Did It
The Justice4Windrush film is one of the most important we’ve ever made.
It all started with a phone call from Tara, assistant to Annie Lennox and long-time collaborator. Actor Colin McFarlane was attending a funeral for Caribbean-born WW2 Flight Sergeant Peter Brown, and he needed a photographer.
After reading Colin’s article about how his father had had to apply for a special permit to be allowed to land back in the UK after flying sorties for the RAF during the war, Annie asked how she could help.
Her solution was to offer up a new recording of her iconic song ‘Why‘, whose lyrics seemed to chime so well with the injustices being inflicted by the Home Office on mis-categorised Caribbean emigrees.
Having been introduced to her by Comic Relief years ago, our MD Steve Maud had made films for years with Annie when she was active on her SING campaign, raising awareness on HIV in Africa. In speaking to Steve about the power of film, Annie always used to say “You have a great power to burst the bubble on people’s limited perception of their own worlds”. We’re talking about our ability to expose bias and create a mirror so we can see ourselves in our true colours.
Her latest cause, still about levelling the playing field, is closer to home.
In 2012 the government introduced the Hostile Environment policy that saw over 16,700 British citizens who arrived during the Windrush generation mis-classified as illegal immigrants. The fallout was huge and continues today – affecting not just the original immigrants, but also their descendants who have only ever known life in this country.
With the government dragging its heels to resolve compensation, the victims of this hostile policy have found themselves trapped in a Kafkaesque prison of bureaucracy. Women with dementia have been deported back to a country they left as a child, and people have been wrongly imprisoned and stripped of all their benefits, sending them into destitution. This inhumane victimisation speaks of a wider institutionalised racial bias we have inherited from our past, and sins that still need atoning for. The hurt is real and the lack of healing is very present.
Annie had recently run a Global Feminism campaign, and after an initial Zoom with her, Colin, and Tara to discuss how a campaign might run, we came up with the line ‘Justice for Windrush’. This became Justice4Windrush. It had a good ring to it.
Together they wanted to convey the travesty of a situation that had grown stagnant, leaving thousands of black British citizens in limbo. The big idea was to bring the great and the good from the music industry, theatre, film and the law profession together, to get the message out there to as many people across society as possible. All were in agreement that a formal re-telling of the history of colonialism and slavery had to be told from the youngest to the oldest, black and white across our great nation.
Colin wrote an imaginary storyline accompanying the lyrics of Annie’s song, ‘Why?’. Steve felt it would be much stronger if we had real-life case examples, endorsed by celebrities, and wanted to go for a Victorian vignette look to match Annie’s taste for Irving Penn. So we set to work creating a mockup in Canva and then on Premiere to establish the narrative and visual flow, whilst our researcher Molly started to speak to Windrushees (as we would come to call them) and get a true sense of the scale of the injustice and how people are today still suffering in silence.
Making the most of a flying visit Annie was making to London, Steve and Jack cycled over to Notting Hill with a laptop and a microphone, to help her record a new take of an abridged version of ‘Why?’ for the newly-named Justice4Windrush campaign. It was also Colin’s birthday – so a Colin the Caterpillar cake was a must!
Meanwhile, working with Colin every step of the way, we set about creating a website, pulling together a PR team, and making inroads to the Windrush community. This was all in preparation for a 2-day shoot to capture celebrities and Windrushees holding up boards, set to Annie’s soundtrack.
This was all done over two days in an East London Studio filming 27 people, working with a crew of 7 (including DOP Rick Joaquim) and our Cloud9 team.
There were several spine-tingling moments witnessed in the monitors. All kept in check by the bellowing of our 1st Assistant Director, Joana Soares.
Beyond what we were filming was a unique moment we had created by bringing everyone connected by Windrush together for the first time. As this was the birth of a new community dedicated to changing the status quo, we saw the opportunity to capture the story behind the story. To do this we used a second behind the scenes crew to get the truth behind the boards.
Working with Coldr (who it turns out are in the same building as us, in Shepherd’s Bush), Farrer Kane, Kat Bawden and a whole team of people across the music, social and legal sectors, we created a PR timeline for the Justice4Windrush campaign.
This consisted with stills, clips, and various versions of the main ‘Why’ film to be reshared by the likes of contributors such as AJ Tracey, Don Letts, Jay Blades, Craig David, Cashh, Eddie Marsan and Hannah Waddingham. To function as the central hub of our campaign, we worked with Rogue Skins to create a website that enables people to sign an Open Letter that will be presented to the government.
In line with our ethos of creating a fair world through film, Justice4Windrush is a campaign that has enabled us to apply our efforts to righting a historical wrong. This is the effort it takes to drive change. As Annie said, this is how film bursts the bubble. This is how its power helps people see the bigger picture.
The Justice4Windrush campaign has only just begun but the combination of music, film and PR with the right people in the right places will make sure the government doesn’t get away with letting the Home Office Scandal just disappear without taking a stand. That’s the motivation that brought the Justice4Windrush campaign together, and is seeing it generate solidarity across the UK, and beyond.
It’s been an amazing journey so far – and made all the more rewarding by having the support of people such as Annie Lennox, who recently sent Steve a message that reads “Fingers and toes crossed, we’ll make a difference to this travesty…”.
The Windrush story is not over. The Home Office scandal is not over. The Justice4Windrush fight continues.
To show your support, and to sign the open letter, head to the Justice4Windrush website.
To watch our Justice4Windrush film, head here.