CounterPunch Readers Reply to My Review of Belfast Kenneth Branagh’s Pathetic Paean to Northern Ireland’s Protestant Fascists and British Imperialism

I so appreciate Jeffrey St. Clair allowing me, and other Counterpunch authors, to leave contact information for readers. For me, I write to organize, to build relationships, I use the same tagline each article but it seems like my articles on film and culture get the most and most passionate responses. Fighting the anti-imperialist cultural war is swimming upstream these days as the system is winning a growing totalitarian mentality—Russia bad, China bad, England, France, and anyone who seems European is good. Please see Walter Rodney’s How Europe Underdeveloped Africa and Aimee Cesaire’ s  Discourse on Colonialism as my view of the parasitic, barbaric, U.S. and European imperialist states. So, during the height of the World Revolution 1917 to 1980, and especially in the 1960s and 1970s, the film Belfast would not have been made. It’s weak anti-fascism and erasure of the Irish Civil Rights Movement and British Occupation would have been a point of outrage.

So, the culture war needs to rage. So, I wrote the article and received some very thoughtful, often very positive responses. but also a few critical and dismissive ones that is what makes politics interesting. I  responded back to the people kind enough to write to me, even those who strongly disagreed with my assessment and politics. So, here are the Counterpunch Readers’ Comments.

Sharon Jackson

Belfast sounds utterly horrible and I will make a point of not watching it, thank you. The other thing  about Northern Ireland is that back in the day, you had to own your house in order to have a vote. Most Catholics lived in council housing and therefore could not vote. Some protestants owned more than one house and also a business. I believe you got two votes if you owned a business….stretching my memory here….so a Protestant could have four or more votes, while a Catholic got no vote at all.

Those Protestant parades were called “Black Man Parades” because the men marchers were all in black suits and black hats. The last huge one in the 70’s, marched through Catholic areas and there was pandemonium and riot. So, the year I was in Belfast (late 70’s….I am Canadian and had relatives there) the parade was broken up into smaller parades. My cousin and I went to one. I was a Protestant at the time and was freaking terrified. There is a fabulous description of the parades in the novel “Trinity,” by Leon Uris. He describes the huge “Lambeg drums,” used by the different Lodges of the Orange Order.

EM–Thanks Sharon for expanding my knowledge of this history.

Denis Quiligan

Holy shit – you know how to have a go. Good onya. If you feel the need to correspond with a fellow disenchanted one send me a reply. I will understand if you have better things to be getting on with.

EM—Thanks, so much Denis, who am I to not appreciate a fellow disenchanted one. (He and I have continued corresponding).

Tina Jess

Thanks for the film review on the film Belfast. Some very interesting points raised. It was indeed bland. One point I would like to highlight is that the little boy Buddy did not steal a bag of flour in fact he stole a box of biological washing powder. I thought this linked to an advertisement playing on the radio earlier about biological washing powder thus showing the era but also perhaps highlighting some sort of whitewash?  Hope you don’t mind me pointing this out?

EM— Not at all, I missed a few facts and nuances and yes, whitewash is definitely the proper symbolism. I thought that the film showing a fascist mob destroying a Catholic market, Buddy as the reluctant mobster, and his Ma as the bizarrely proper Protestant who would not stand up to the fascists but made her kid return the whitewash was the very whitewash you are taking about. Thanks,

Sean Donegan

I’m from just outside Derry, in Northern Ireland. I really appreciated your comments in your recent article “Belfast: Branagh’s Pathetic Paean to Northern Ireland’s Protestant Fascism and British Imperialism.” I thought this was a beautifully well-observed and refreshing take on how events in the north are portrayed and a really important critique of Branagh’s film.

I was drawn to write to you as I am an actor, currently performing in a production called The White Handkerchief. It is being performed in Derry’s Guildhall – the seat of the town’s civic governance and the intended destination of the civil rights march that ended in bloodshed on January 30th 1972. Our play celebrates the dignity and strength of Derry’s working people as they dealt with an aggressive British military imperial presence on the day and the lies and cover-up that followed in the years afterwards. I think it is a fitting theatrical celebration and memorial to the events of that day and serves to bring to light so much of what you rightly found lacking in Branagh’s picture.  I would be delighted if you found time to watch our production online – available until February 8th.

EM—I saw The White Handkerchief. The play was very moving, and it did a great job of showing the courage it takes to be an unarmed marcher in an armed camp. Also, again unlike Branagh, it shows the horrors of British imperialist occupation and how quickly they wanted an order to “shoot to kill.” Also, showed how occupying armies, including police in Black communities in the U.S. hate the people they are occupying and are on a hair-trigger to attack and kill. I thought the singing was terrific, the actors, were very skilled, and the singing debate between the journalist and his woman partner/lover was very moving, the real conflict expressed so vividly. I also loved the narrow, cinder-block stage with the audience on both sides. I do not think it fleshed out the more secular, anti-imperialist, socialist elements of that civil rights movement and in my view, the Catholic warning to the soldiers that they will face their own conscience was not a strong enough response as it would still require an organized resistance. In all, an important experience and I urge Counterpunch readers to view the play.

Sean played Bernard McGuigan. Again the link to tickets is below.

Joan Sekler

Your critique of “ Belfast” is excellent! I wish your article. could be published in the mainstream media, but all their film critics praised “Belfast” and it will surely get nominated at the Oscars in March.

EM Thanks so much Joan, you have been such a fighter for human rights in LA for decades, it means so much that you wrote to me.


I believe you have misrepresented Belfast.  The protestant gangs are presented as fascist thugs quite clearly. I would agree that the British army and British imperialism are let off the hook by focusing on the thugs.   However, that a protestant family after standing firm against the thuggery would later choose to escape the terror and intimidation they themselves were facing and leave their community behind is no crime, nor moral shortcoming. Your position is really sectarian in itself.  There have been many good films made about the colonial Irish oppression by the British.  I count this among them, even though it is not presented from the perspective of the Republicans and IRA.  That there are good people who will resist fascism from within the fascist realm of power is certainly noteworthy, just as there are many “whites” (a non-category) in the U.S. who will stand against terror against the African American community.

EM–Thanks so much for engaging my engagement with Belfast. If you agree that British imperialism is let off the hook and we agree that Protestant gangs are presented as fascist thugs, then asking people to take an Active! Stand is not sectarian but rooted in the long human rights sense of moral obligation to take militant and aggressive action to confront evil. It is my view, and I used quotes from Cleaver and King, that when I began in CORE in 1964, they asked me “are you willing to put your body on the line” in a group that had just lost 3 wonderful organizers to Klan assassination and so many other members who had been beaten badly for the Freedom Rides. This is Kenneth Branagh’s very conscious white wash of history. I am one of the “whites” but mainly Jews who did stand up to racism then and now, but I do understand it has also involved for me going to prison for 18 months for demonstrations against the war. I may be wrong in your view but hardly sectarian. As the Trump people have the courage of their fascist convictions to storm the capital, only the most militant resistance has a chance to stop them in the future. But thanks for engaging the work and expressing your views.

Balls and Bullocks

These comments are a load of balls. The film is a small, almost intimate observation of the life of (chiefly) one family, and their interaction with events beyond their control. These central protagonists are of a Protestant evangelical tradition, not strongly sectarian, but still part of a section of community. Well, we all were that, whichever part of community we were from. Putting this other interpretation onto it is complete bollocks. I note you position other straw man aspects, that you see, but no-one else will (without your assistance). I take it a moments consideration will show that all the participants in conflict in NI were ‘white’. (Cousins, really) Why? You’re a  person of advanced years (75+), where do you get this super sectarian interpretation of the conflict in NI, 1967 – 1998?

EM–Thank you for such a thoughtful engagement. But to assume that I am anti-white (which actually I am in terms of the U.S. white settler state, the majority of whites who support it, and the suffocating culture it produces. But I judge white people, and Jews, of which I’m both, to the standard of what are they doing about the racism and injustice of their own governments. As I understand it, Caucasian is a racial category but “white” is a manufactured, reactionary, and horrific one, with its roots in European, Christian, and U.S. parasitic, genocidal, imperialism. And yes, the vast majority of white people benefit from and actively participate in the white settler state. But as a Jew, and with empathy for the Irish, both the Jews and Irish were oppressed peoples under European colonialism. (Of course, many were collaborators as well.) Karl Marx understood the Irish as suffering the imperialist oppression by England, and understood it as a national liberation struggle as part of the international class struggle. He exposed the reactionary impact that England’s oppression and exploitation of Ireland had on the white, British, proletariat. Similarly, while the Jewish people tried to assimilate into European culture while maintaining their own autonomy, and at times identified as German or Polish or French, the Germans and Poles and French did not return the favor. (My grandma Sarah told me, “Remember, we lived in Poland but we are not Polish, we lived in Germany but we are not Germans, the goyim hate us wherever we live.” So, the Irish and the Jews are  despised people in white Christian eyes and have suffered the consequences. In all the books about “how the Jews became white” and “How the Irish became white” that indicates it wasn’t simply a question of skin color but a political choice as to which side they were on. We need more Jews and Irish to “un-white themselves” as Bernadette Devlin did so brilliantly—not by changing their genetic make-up but by changing their political consciousness

I am part of the Jews who fought the Nazis and fought for civil rights and have fought against “whiteness” in all of its disgusting forms. I accept my genetic identity as white but do not identify with it or the white settler state and identify as an anti-imperialist Jew. Many Irish during that period hated England and the Protestants and it was a very big thing for Bernadette Devlin when she came to the Untied States to dance with a Black man on stage (I know should not be a big thing, but for the vast majority of U.S. Irish who became white and racist, it was a major cultural confrontation.) Then, as my article points out, when Devlin came to the U.S. she openly identified with the Black Panther Party. So, to assume I don’t like the film because all the people in it are “white” makes no sense. The film clearly because it is simply a fight among whites when even the film portrays Protestant, Unionist thugs having a pogrom against the Irish  Catholics in North Ireland that who are also Caucasian.  see the “struggle among the Europeans, the Caucasians, and yes, “the whites” as critical throughout history, but many “whites” abandoned the political identity as “white” which is a racist, hostile categorization, and became “anti-racist white” “anti-imperialist.” “anti-fascist” “socialist” and communist.  And with regard to your reference about my advancing age, yes, like everyone else’s age is advancing as well, but my heart is young and gets younger arguing with people like you.

From: “You can’t even get your facts right”

“The boy and the gang shoplifted from the Indian store not the Catholic store. But the store they broke into was Catholic not Indian”.

EM–This was a factual mistake and yes, I transposed the two stories as you corrected me.  And I do appreciate that. But why so angry? That’s like saying, “In the film the first store the fascists attacked was owned by Jew and the second one by communists, but in your review, you got them reversed. Yes, I should have double checked that. But does that change the general line that Belfast portrays a Protestant working class family that does not do a damn thing to help either the Indians or the Irish? Where is the outrage about British and Protestant fascism?

O.K. Readers, thanks. Got to go back to South Central L.A. to continue the revolution.

Eric Mann is the co-director of the Labor/Community Strategy Center. He is a veteran of the Congress of Racial Equality, Students for a Democratic Society, and the United Auto Workers New Directions Movement. He is the host of KPFK/Pacifica’s Voices from the Frontlines. His forthcoming book is I Saw a Revolution with my Own Eyes: History, Strategy, and Organizing for The Revolution We Need today. He welcomes comments at