The Hard Stop (2015)

George Amponsah’s powerful and moving documentary The Hard Stop shows how society is still failing black youths five years the riots following Mark Duggan’s shooting by the police.

Black lives matter

by Alexa Dalby

The Hard Stop

CAUTION: Here be spoilers

In the summer of 2011, five days of rioting. arson and looting broke out across England in protest at the fatal police shooting of Mark Duggan in London. He was the victim of a “hard stop”, a controversial practice in which unmarked police cars box in and halt a suspicious vehicle without any warning. He was travelling in a minicab and was suspected of having a gun, though one wasn’t found in his possession at the scene.

George Amponsah’s documentary couldn’t be more timely. It is released on the fifth anniversary of the demonstrations that erupted into nationwide riots and amid the news of similar riots happening in the United States following the recent shootings of unarmed black men by police in Minnesota and Louisiana.

Duggan was 29, married with a family. He grew up in Tottenham, on the Broadwater Farm estate, which had become notorious in 1985 for the death of a police officer, Keith Blakelock, in riots following the death of another black person as a result of police action, Cynthia Jarrett, a disabled woman. The perpetrators were never found. This led to a continuing history of tension between the police and black youths. Amponsah delves into the lives of two of them, Marcus Knox-Hooke and Kurtis Henville, who grew up with Duggan. It’s no exaggeration to call them the stars of the film. Building up trust and rapport with them and their families, he gives us an unparalled insight in their anger and frustration at the inherent racism that shapes their lives.

Neither of them is blameless: both have had their run-ins with the law. Marcus Knox-Hooke, now a Muslim, was imprisoned for his part in the riots. His friend Kurtis Henville had previously been in prison but is now going straight, trying to support his partner and two children, but unemployed and is struggling to get a job – any job. We follow their struggles over five years in the face of continued prejudice that limits their opportunities. Knox-Hooke is quieter, changed by his experiences. He feels his life has been wasted. He becomes a mentor to black youths when he is released from prison. Henville is more articulate, driven, almost heart-breakingly determined to overcome his many setbacks.

The two men are allowed to tell their own stories and we are presented with an insight into the world they have to survive in and how it affects them day to day. Amponsah captures the mood in the streets, in community centres and in families, with numerous driving scenes to link the archive footage. His film is visually atmospheric; it leaps off the screen with its story clearly told by Amponsah and fellow screenwriter Dionne Walker, and it creates two real people to relate to as they search for meaning in their lives against the background of prejudice. It’s sympathetic, committed and partisan, but by giving a voice to the unheard, really that only serves to redress an unequal balance.

His previous credits include The Fighting Spirit, about Ghananian street boxing, and The Importance Of Being Elegant, about Congolese fashion-followers, the sapeurs’, cult of extreme male dandyism.

The Hard Stop is released on 15 July 2016 in the UK.

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