Robots of Brixton

2047/the future—a young male walks through an open market, past car manufacturing and china food. The surface of his body has no sense for the gleaming sun too close to earth, singeing her rays into the cement streets. We follow the narrating robot around his live, unable to stop watching once we started not knowing why. His polished metallic posture dripping with self confidence and suppressed fierceness and the electric beat imitating a heart beat casts a spell upon us—the more we watch, the more do we become this male robot we don’t even know the name of.

April 1981—300 casualties, a city in ruins. It is Saturday night when the police arrest a young black male, which ignites the the anger of the community of color in Brixton that has been so long lingering under their skins. Even though on the surface people of color seem to be fully integrated in the social and community life of Brixton, upon a closer look the high unemployment and unfair SUS policy, nowadays known as the stop-and-frisk policy cause tensions seething between blacks and the police. The three days’ riots ended in the early hours of Sunday morning, labelled ‘bloody Sunday’ by the Times magazine: three hundred people were killed in Brixton that night.

In his afro-futurist short movie Kibwe Tavares replaces the black rioters with robots and recreates the events of 1981. The realism of the scenery and the characters is just as stunning as the care for detail. From the first second the main character’s posture is full of fierce and subliminal, growing anger, his movements are firm and deliberate. As we watch the robots’ movements we can almost feel their muscles burning, their bodies working, living and all of this even though they are visibly built out of metal trash. Against common expectations the conscious inhumane, typically robotic design of the character promotes their living, human character. The clear, honest blue eyes and the tension building of the heart-beat-music causes the viewer empathize with the robots. Looking through their eyes, we find ourselves sympathizing with the ‘aggressors’, the community of color who started the riot as victims of a racist executive system. The character of the robot is thereby to the viewer alien enough to serve as a natural barrier creating space and enabling it to asses the happenings shown in the movie without any prejudice.

“History repeats itself, first as history, second as a farce” suggests the short film at the end, drawing the attention away from a pure recovering of history towards a futuristic vision. But what might seem like a prophesying depiction of a new class system discriminating against robots is implicitly a praise of the machine. The robots take on a position in which they are not only human in that they are capable of feeling but they are above that conscious of themselves and their position and rights in society which they are willing to fight for.

Aside from its social message, the films technique is so elaborate that it is in itself as an art piece a pleasure to watch!

Robots of Brixton from Kibwe Tavares on Vimeo.

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