Five years ago, sparked by allegations of police injustice, first London, then urban centres all over the United Kingdom exploded with riots. They were some of the biggest mass disturbances in the country since the turbulence of the 1980s when first Brixton rose up in rebellion, and later the wider country rebelled against Margaret Thatcher’s poll tax. Like the 1980s, these riots arose from increasing community dissatisfaction with heavy handed policing and social neglect. The direct imcident that led to the ri9ts in 2011 was the death of a young black man, Mark Duggan, shot unarmed. The riots that were subsequently unleashed in rage against the police version of events are the inspiration for events in two different but captivating stories of masculinity and friendship in 21st century London. Radically different but grappling with the challenges of young black male identity in a society that seems frequently hostile, George Amponsah’s The Hard Stop and Olumide Popoola’s When we speak of Nothing are both striking in their attention to the black male experience. At their heart both stories are about neglect and abandonment; in Hard Stop we find a community that feels neglected by the state, and young black men hard done by the perception that for them and their lives Justice cannot be obtained. The documentary follows Marcus, a family friend to Mark Duggan, as he faces prosecution for the ri9ts, and Kurtis, another friend of Duggan’s as they rebuild their lives in the aftermath of the ri9ts. The protagonists of The Hard Stop are very
much real people experiencing the consequences of a brutal history and incident, When we speak of Nothing, is not at all less affecting for being fictional. Popoola’s debut novel is also very richly a story about friendship and a search for what it means to be a man. Karl, and his friend Abu (?) are outsiders in London’s (estate gang culture, and Karl is very much in search for identity as he journeys to Nigeria to find his father. While he quests for his father, Karl finds in Nigeria a welcome acceptance for his masculinity.
The Hard Stop is very much more a London story, whereas Popoola’s novel takes us from the coldness of London’s hostility to a surprisingly accepting Nigerian reality. Both stories have at their heart hard but redemptive stories about how despite a hostile world an empowering, tender black masculinity exists outside the stereotypes of feral children and hardened criminality.