Black Code Screening

Steve Hewitt, Senior Lecturer in American and Canadian Studies at UoB; Nick de Pencier, documentary film director; Dr. Marianne Wade, Reader in Law at UofB; Stephen Gale, retired GCHQ officer; Joe Westby, Amnesty International.

Black Code screening and discussion panel (Screening Rights Film Festival 2017, mac)

 Event report by Juliet Watkin-Rees, final year American and Canadian Studies student.

On Friday 27 October, final year American and Canadian Studies students studying Steve Hewitt's module From the OSS to Snowden: The History of the American Intelligence were invited to attend the Screening Rights Film Festival showing of Black Code (2016). The event was held at mac Birmingham, sponsored by the University of Birmingham and the University of Warwick. 

 Nicholas de Pencier's Black Code was a fascinating, gripping account of how governments control and manipulate the internet in order to censor and monitor their citizens. Through harrowing stories from exiled Tibetan monks, Syrians tortured for a Facebook post, to online violence against Pakistani women, Black Code demonstrated the terrifying power and capabilities the internet holds - often in the wrong hands. The battle to regulate (or control) cyberspace versus free speech continues to be detrimental to activist causes, democracy, and, in particular, to minorities.

In contrast to the inevitable feeling of doom from the stories of the exploitation of cyber power, however, Black Code also provided us with a glimmer of hope. In a final story, activists used the power of live footage and social media networks to rise against authoritative enforcement. It focused on the 'Midia NINJA' group in Rio de Janeiro and the incredible individuals taking a stand against the 2014 Fifa World Cup. By providing and publicising their own account of events, they were able to overpower national news reporting and fight for justice for innocent protestors.

Steve Hewitt hosted a panel of experts alongside the director, Nicholas de Pencier, to talk about the film immediately afterwards. A very engaged audience eagerly asked questions, challenging the panel further on aspects of surveillance, the world wide web, cyber-law and minorities. After, the mac hosted a reception which continued further discussions amongst members of the audience.

All in all, everyone thoroughly enjoyed the film, whether it shocked, terrified or enraged them. The trip was extremely enriching and I would thoroughly recommend the film. Thank you to the University of Birmingham for inviting us, to the mac for hosting the event, and to Michele Aaron and the Screening Rights Film Festival.