Power to the people! Film, music, books and more about collective action


Picasso painted Guernica in 1937 not merely as a protest against the barbarity of bombing civilians, but as an immediate call for support of the Spanish Republic. Guernica was bombed by Hitler’s air force on behalf of Franco’s far-right forces in the Spanish civil war. Picasso started his vast painting soon after seeing the news. It evokes reading a morning paper with mounting horror: there’s newsprint, a kitchen table. Unveiled in the Spanish Pavilion at the Paris International Expo, this jagged wreckage of a history painting toured to summon support for the cause. Jonathan Jones


After the Act at Traverse theatre.

Using verbatim interviews, After the Act (on at Edinburgh’s Traverse theatre until 27 August) tells the story of section 28, the legislation that prevented the “promotion” of homosexuality, thus creating an enduring atmosphere of silence and fear. Alongside the astonishing history, what struck me from the interviews Breach Theatre conducted was the shame still held by an interviewee who did not speak out when they could have. When one compares the anti-gay atmosphere that led to section 28 with today’s climate of anti-trans vitriol, where attackers in both cases use strikingly similar language, After the Act is not only a reminder of the past but a call to action for the present. Kate Wyver


The 1975: Ross MacDonald, George Daniel, Matthew Healy and Adam Hann.

Amid all the recent controversy around Matty Healy’s clumsy acts of LGBTQ+ solidarity at a Malaysian festival, it is easy to forget that, in 2018, his band, the 1975, released one of the most poignant singles of the decade. A millennial status update akin to Billy Joel’s We Didn’t Start the Fire, Love It If We Made It matches throbbing synths with a litany of damning headlines: climate change, racial violence, fake news. It’s a harrowing story, but also a call to arms: the only way to avoid societal collapse is to prop things up together. In the chorus and the wailing saxophone of the song’s conclusion, Healy seems hopeful that by facing the extent of our issues we may collectively forge some answers. Jenessa Williams

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North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell.

Ten years after the iniquities and unrest in industrial Manchester inspired Friedrich Engels to write his 1845 polemic The Condition of the Working Class in England, Elizabeth Gaskell cast a novelist’s gaze on the city in North and South. As well as describing the poverty and illness endured by millworkers, she explores the passions that lead them to band together and go on strike. “I just look forward to the chance of dying at my post sooner than yield. That’s what folk call fine and honourable in a soldier, and why not in a poor weaver-chap?” says union leader Nicholas Higgins. Gaskell is less strident than Engels (who isn’t?), but she does help her readers feel the need for change emotionally, as well as intellectually. Sam Jordison


Free Chol Soo Lee.

A decade-long court battle that brought together Korean-American churchgoing elders and fiery free-spirited student activists – and contributed to the blossoming of an Asian-American political consciousness – is explored in sensitive and moving detail in documentary Free Chol Soo Lee. Released last year, the film looks at the case of Chol Soo Lee, who was wrongly convicted of a 1974 murder in San Francisco’s Chinatown. Investigative journalist KW Lee soon began digging into the conviction, and his reporting led to a movement to free the then 20-year-old that galvanised Asian communities across the globe. Salacious true-crime stories seem inescapable these days, but this film is refreshingly less interested in uncovering whodunnit, and more in showing the emotional burden of the US’s criminal justice system. The relationship between the two men, which evolves from journalist and interviewee to inextricably bound friends, forms the heart of the story. Rebecca Liu


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