This is a hard hitting film. I grew up near Brixton (in Kennington) where parts of the film are set. The South London (Deptford, Lewisham and Brixton) it is set in is a bleak dystopia. Babylon is a film with a message. Babylon explores issues of cultural identity, and of cultural preservation.
Our Hero is MC Blue (Aswad's Brinsley Forde). He is not having an easy time of it - sacked by his racist boss(Mel Smith), two-timed by his girlfriend, beaten up by plain-clothes police, seeing his sound system is smashed up and on the run. The film finishes with a posse of policemen smashing down the doors at the semi-finals of a sound competition. As the Police sledghammer the door to the beat Aswad's 'Warrior Charge' booms out:-
"Four hundred years it's the same kind of living/Pain and misery all that Babylon is giving/I can't take no more of that, no I can't take no more of that"
The end is defiant but also conveys a sense of overwhelming despair. It's not difficult to identify with Blue given the problems he faces but it is hard to sympathise with him. He consistently makes all the wrong choices faced with racism and police harassment (not confined to Black people as I remember!).
The dialogue is great. My favourite is when Beefy (Trevor Laird) is told that "this was a lovely area before you came here," and retorts "This IS my country, lady and it's never been lovely, it's always been a tip for as long as I can remember."
It was co-written by Martin Stellman (writer of Quadrophenia) and Franco Rosso who also directed it and starred Brinsley Forde, Karl Howman and Trevor Laird. Music was scored by Dennis Bovell.
Babylon remained an underground cult classic for years. Audiences got little chance to catch it. The censors were scared that black Britons under the age of 18 would misread the film as an incitement to violence. The BBFC saddled it with a limiting 'X' certificate. BBFC secretary James Ferman reassured, "We all believe that it will become a classic of its type and be around for many years, so that black youngsters who cannot see it today will have their chance before very long." But following its cinema run, Babylon went underground. With no VHS or DVD release (even the soundtrack wasn't reissued on CD until 2005), the film instead collected a cult following via second-generation recordings, taped off the TV after either of its two screenings on Channel 4 during the 1980s and then exchanged and passed around. I for one welcome the fact that this thought-provoking film has been made more widely available.