The Pod Academy’s Director Tess Woodcraft speaks about meeting Dr John Carlos, one of the men behind the iconic Black Power salute at the 1968 Olympics and the new generation of Brits it has inspired.
It’s not often you are in a room with a world famous icon.
A diverse crowd of sixty or so young British filmmakers packed into a basement room in Waterloo, the HQ of Latimer Films, to hear Dr John Carlos speak. Carlos was the bronze medal winner for the 200m sprint at the 1968 Olympics and famous – along with fellow US athlete Tommie Smith – for one of the most iconic moments of the 20th century, the Black Power salute on the Olympic podium.
Stressing that his mission was to fight for human rights, not just black rights, Dr Carlos urged everyone to use their fifteen minutes of fame to make a difference and to get the world to think differently. He pointed out that those present, as filmmakers, would make films that would last beyond their lifetimes. He emphasised that everyone had a voice and that they should use it. “That gesture in 1968 needed the guy behind the movie camera, “ he said. “It’s a great society, but not as great as it should be – open Pandora’s door, get people to think differently.”
Dr Carlos is a thoughtful man with a gentle humour, but the revolutionary fire still burns inside of him. He was enthusiastic about the Occupy movement, quoting Malcolm X: “if you don’t die for something, you will die for anything.” He was also clear that no one should be afraid to offend their oppressor. “John Brown, Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King – they were all called troublemakers. Don’t worry what people call you,” he said.
In that room listening with rapt attention were young Brits with a wide variety of heritages including Somali, Caribbean, Ghanaian, Irish, Arabic and white British. Each of them had been inspired in some way by that iconic image from 1968. A black woman born the same year the photo was taken spoke of how humbled she was to be in the same room as Dr Carlos, having grown up with pictures and stories of that salute. A young man from Northern Ireland born in the 1980s whose family had been involved in Bloody Sunday explained how inspirational that moment at the 1968 Olympics had been for them.
It was a short meeting, but John Carlos still insisted on hearing about the audience and what they were doing. We heard about the 100 Dads walk to be held in Brixton on Father’s Day, as well as about Tiny, a new film exploring the problems of gang culture that premiered at the Ritzy, with Chuka Umunna MP promising to show it at Westminster.
Perhaps as inspiring as Dr Carlos himself was being in the presence of so many young filmmakers from diverse backgrounds, all committed to adding their voice and their talents to a British future.
Photo: Jay Peeples