Two years ago this August, the world looked on as reports of mass looting, arson and assault poured in from the burning London streets.
The fatal police shooting of 29-year-old Black Brit Mark Duggan in 2011 and a subsequent peaceful protest incited a week-long riot in cities and boroughs across England. Contentious conversations of socioeconomic inequality and racial profiling soon surfaced as political, social and academic figures debated the causes and contexts of the civil unrest.
In the documentary Riot From Wrong, director Teddy Nygh and the youth-led team at Fully Focused Productions explored the misconceptions surrounding the highly publicized event, as well as viable solutions, conducting in-depth conversations with British youth during the fourth day of the riot.
“Young people were so frustrated that they were kind of getting the blame, [and not all] young people were involved,” Nygh told BET.com. “We had to go out there and take our camera out on the streets and have a deeper conversation about what was happening, but also search for solutions.”
Long after the sensational fires died down, Nygh and the Fully Focused Production team have continued to collaborate with fellow youth organizations to celebrate the social progress of local young people, while still addressing the volatile issues that sparked the historic riots. The filmmaker spoke with BET.com on the aftermath of the 2011 London riots two years later, the parallels of Trayvon Martin and Mark Duggan and the best ways to spark effective social change within one’s own community.
BET.com: What were some unexpected details or stories that you discovered during the making of the documentary?
Teddy Nygh: I think one of the biggest things that came up for us was from Mark Duggan’s auntie, Carole Duggan, and that was that Mark didn’t have a criminal record. He was 29-years-old when he was killed. To not have a criminal record when he grew up in a place like Broadwater Farm, which has had plenty of its problems over the years, it has to say something about his character. For us, that was a surprise because of how the media portrayed him to be a gangster. Also, his friends said he wasn’t a gangster.
The media put out an image to the world that was almost trying to make it feel justified that he had been shot and killed. Before we even really got to know the character of who he was they put out a certain perception of who he was and we wanted to get to the bottom of that. I don’t think we’re trying to say he was an angel, because we’ve all been through things in our lives, but does that mean we deserve to be shot and killed by the police?
BET.com: How do you feel the riots changed things in the U.K.?
Nygh: I think a lot of people feel that not a lot has changed in these two years since the riots, but I think a positive is that more young people are determined to show that they’re doing positive things. They’ve got a positive voice, and they want to show that. Because of how people reacted towards a lot of young people with the riots, there’s kind of been a reason for people to go out there and do positive things. But because there was a lot of looting and destruction during the riot, it overshadowed some of the issues.
BET.com: Are there any parallels that you’ve drawn between the deaths of Trayvon Martin, Mark Duggan and Stephen Lawrence and the response to each of their deaths?
Nygh: Yeah. The parallel is race. I think the difference in America is simply numbers. In America, the population size is much bigger, which also means that the black population is much bigger, which then means that there are more positive examples and more black people in power. In Britain, we just don’t even come close to that ratio. Even with the Stephen Lawrence case, he wasn’t killed by police, but yet the police still tried to cover up certain facts. Police tried to cover up and tried to put a smear campaign on his family, which is completely and utterly morally wrong in every way.
There are families that have campaigned for twenty years for the death of their loved ones who never committed any crimes, but died at the hands of the police and they still haven’t had justice. So, I think that is probably the parallel. Because I am sure there are hundreds of cases like that in America. And for that to still be happening twenty years later…we’re in 2013, now. You would think that we’ve moved on, but clearly we haven’t.
BET.com: Events like the shooting of Mark Duggan and Trayvon Martin and the riots and protests that follow often inspire people to mobilize and form some type of movement. But, then they find themselves unsure of how to effectively do that and become frustrated or disheartened. At Fully Focused, how do you and the team go about harnessing aspiration to make visible social change?
Nygh: By understanding that there are many ways and by empowering yourself with confidence and skills to learn that media, for example, is a very powerful tool. So, what you’re doing right now, for instance. You’re taking a story and putting it out to a larger audience to spread the word. Film is like that too, because it’s very instant and you can share it with a lot of people. So, there are other ways to get your voice heard, and I think that’s something that a lot of people are understanding. Even petitions could be a very powerful way to make a change. Sometimes I think those ways are better than a protest, because protests seem to get ignored a lot, unless they turn violent. Then, if they turn violent, the message of the protest gets lost.
We believe in working with lots of people, and it’s why we have a lot of partnerships with other organizations. It is about building a network, and working together in different ways so that there’s more power to the voice. People power is a very powerful thing and we’ve seen it around the world, how powerful it can be. And sometimes that has been through protest, but it’s the media often, the use of social media, that has mobilized the process. We know that media is a powerful tool, and I think learning how to use it is very, very important.
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(Photo: Courtesy Fully Focused Productions)