There are always two sides to one story, but in the case of Mark Duggan’s death at the hands of police in 2011, the story is downright multi-faceted. The event triggered the London riots that same year, reflecting a portion of the country that was at once voiceless and furious. The question of lawfulness concerning Duggan’s shooting has reverberated through black communities since, and with the consistent senselessness America is currently going through, it’s a wound that feels as sore as ever. You may already have a stance on the subject, and no matter what that perspective is, George Amponsah’s The Hard Stop is essential viewing.
The film deftly shows us there is so much more than what the mainstream media covered, and the narratives they pursued.
Knowing the subject matter going in, you may feel that this documentary will be making its points through political rhetoric, when in fact The Hard Stop comes almost entirely from ground level by following two of Mark’s closest friends, Marcus and Kurtis, as they go about their lives day-to-day. The film quickly establishes itself as something of a domestic drama; as they both campaign toward justice for Mark, they also grapple with the growing responsibilities of work and family. Their friend’s death clearly matured them from earning money illegally on the streets, and while they may be searching for a meaning to underline Mark’s memory, they’re also trying to find meaning in their own lives. It’s in the quieter moments that we’re privileged to get a look inside a part of Britain that’s not particularly represented in film; when Marcus is readying himself for a stint in prison following his role in the riots, it’s a sobering, all too-real experience, and on the less extreme end of the spectrum, we have Kurtis parking up alongside a phone shop, cheekily latching onto their WiFi and having a spontaneous conversation with one of the employees. These are details, if not entire sequences, which mark the documentary out as one that isn’t barrelling toward some huge, earth-shattering conclusion like an Alex Gibney joint would, but rather one that slowly gets the feeling under our skin of a world that’s lived in and, as a result, one that’s also worn around the edges. Amponsah has an exquisite eye for knowing which of these moments will reveal small yet important surprises.
When you hear the name Mark Duggan, you imagine streets lined with angry people, flames going up and shop fronts being torn down; The Hard Stop deftly shows us there is so much more than what the mainstream media covered, and the narratives they pursued. While the doc is essentially based entirely from one side of the argument – no police are interviewed, for instance – it still never opts for easy answers or simple justifications for its protagonists’ actions. It claims and assumes responsibility for an entire nation who may have acted out, and many of those who acted out of anger at the way the establishment they find themselves in discriminates them. At a sharp 85 minutes, The Hard Stop ends, but it makes clear that the lives and struggles it depicts will continue.
The Hard Stop is in UK cinemas from July 15.