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

From a vast anti-war statement by Pablo Picasso to a powerful treatise on section 28, our critics showcase culture that reminds us what we can achieve when we come together


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.
Cross section … After the Act at Traverse theatre. Photograph: Alex Brenner

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.
Key changes … The 1975: Ross MacDonald, George Daniel, Matthew Healy and Adam Hann. Photograph: Shirlaine Forrest/WireImage

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

* * *


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.
Justice league … Free Chol Soo Lee. Photograph: Courtesy of Unity Archive Project

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

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Stan and deliver: art, books, film and more about super-fandom
From an intimate take on Harry Potter to a moving monument to Marilyn, our writers celebrate culture that plays the fame game

17, Jul, 2023 @9:00 AM

Article image
People power: music, film, books and more about the madness and wisdom of crowds
From Dickens’s depiction of the Gordon riots to Alessia Cara drifting around a party, our critics select culture about the seething masses

15, May, 2023 @9:00 AM

Article image
Cultural prescription: plays, films, books and more to help you start university
From Educating Rita to The Secret History, Guardian critics suggest some comfort viewing and listening to take on campus

Miriam Gillinson, Peter Bradshaw, Jenessa Williams, Justine Jordan and Adrian Searle

27, Sep, 2021 @2:43 PM

Article image
New horizons: music, art, books and more to get out of a rut
From hit novels by late bloomers to artists turned chess masters, our critics select culture that revels in reinvention

11, Sep, 2023 @9:00 AM

Article image
A bit of rough: books, music, art and more to help with a hangover
You’ve had a big one, but what goes up must come down. From gentle piano to breezy laughs, our critics offer salves for sore heads

Jenessa Williams, Jason Okundaye, Sam Jordison, Rebecca Liu and Jonathan Jones

05, Dec, 2022 @10:00 AM

Article image
Cultural prescription: film, books, plays and more to help you embrace autumn
From A Midsummer Night’s Dream to When Harry Met Sally, Guardian critics suggest comforting culture for the changing seasons

Peter Bradshaw, Tim Ashley, Adrian Searle, Alison Flood and Arifa Akbar

04, Oct, 2021 @9:00 AM

Article image
Darling buds: books, music, theatre and more with spring in their hearts
From Chaucer’s elemental epic to Gnarls Barkley’s alternative take on gospel, our critics suggest popular culture inspired by the return of sunnier skies

Miriam Gillinson, Jonathan Jones, Sam Jordison, Jessica Kiang and Christine Ochefu

28, Mar, 2022 @9:00 AM

Article image
Iced gems: art, books, music and more to keep the home fires burning this winter
From storm-tossed seascapes to skating on the Thames, our cultural critics select wintry wonders for the season’s dark days

Sam Jordison, Rebecca Liu, Keza MacDonald, Skye Sherwin and Jenessa Williams

19, Dec, 2022 @10:00 AM

Article image
Astral peaks: music, books, art and more about the majesty of space
From beautiful celestial metaphors to a virtual simulacrum of an entire galaxy, our critics suggest popular culture inspired by the wonders of astronomy

Jonathan Jones, Jenessa Williams, Sam Jordison, Luke Holland and Jessica Kiang

14, Mar, 2022 @10:00 AM

Article image
Onwards and upwards: music, film, art and more to inspire change
Sometimes life becomes a little stale. From upbeat pop to teenage last hurrahs, our critics have the moodboard for forging a fresh path

02, Jan, 2023 @10:00 AM