Review: Riots Reframed

Michael Pooler reviews a film that gives an alternative view of the 2011 riots

April 9, 2013
4 min read

When riots and looting swept through UK cities in the summer of 2011, those involved were widely condemned by the political classes and media as ‘feral youth’ engaged in ‘sheer criminality’, while attempts to examine the sociological causes were labelled as apologetics for thuggery.

Riots Reframed, a debut documentary by filmmaker Fahim Alam, aims to challenge mainstream representations of events in that explosive week by giving a voice to some of the young people caught up in the disturbances. Interspersed with sections of spoken word and music, the film is a retelling of the historical forces that led up to the breakdown of order.

Race and racism

It starts with a simple but powerful exposition of the events in Tottenham, North London – how 29-year-old father Mark Duggan was surrounded by 31 officers, chased and shot – and it is hard not to agree with its contention that this was an act of ‘extra-judicial assassination’.

Race forms a central pillar of the filmmaker’s analysis. Despite triumphalist talk of institutional racism being eliminated following the MacPherson report into the Stephen Lawrence murder, it shows first-hand that discriminatory treatment of young black and Asian men by the long arm of the law is very much still alive today. A refusal by police to speak with Duggan’s family until two days after his death and their brutal assault on a 16-year-old girl protesting in the following days – cited by many as the final straw that sparked the riots – merely illustrate this disconnect.

Rather than an isolated incident, Duggan’s murder is placed within the context of the 1,433 deaths following police contact since 1990 – none of which have led to a conviction. A picture is built up of years of simmering resentment within minority communities, based on genuine grievances and a sense of police acting with impunity. Instead of a paroxysm of violence, the initial riots are framed as an anti-police uprising.

Candid interviews

A virtue of the film is that it allows people caught up in the riots to speak of their actions and experiences without the crass dramatisation, selective editing or sensationalism typical of TV documentaries. In one poignant scene, a man who threw a petrol bomb at police tells of the harshness of prison life and the difficulty of adjusting once out again. There is a candid and sincere quality to the speakers – who include community organisers, people on the street, cultural commentators and anti-racism activists – which stems from their belonging to the communities affected.

But the film struggles in other areas. A London-centric approach neglects the dynamics in other areas, such as predominantly-white working-class Salford. Similarly it glosses too easily over the acquisitive nature of the riots. A focus on attacks against large chain stores and sports shops, which are depicted as emblematic of anti-corporate rage and a product of a consumerist society, fails to acknowledge the often indiscriminate damage done to small businesses as well as violence against innocent bystanders.

As a film made on a shoestring budget, Riots Reframed is impressive in its scope and the thrust, even if holes can be poked in its overarching narrative of ‘resistance’. As a social commentary it neither condemns nor condones, but through a bottom-up method of oral history provides an important re-interpretation of the riots.

Riots Reframed is produced by VoiceOver and was first screened at York Hall in Bethnal Green in East London in March. More screenings will be announced in the coming weeks. For more information visit the website.


✹ Try our new pay-as-you-feel subscription — you choose how much to pay.

Utopia: Work less play more
A shorter working week would benefit everyone, writes Madeleine Ellis-Petersen

Mum’s Colombian mine protest comes to London
Anne Harris reports on one woman’s fight against a multinational coal giant

Bike courier Maggie Dewhurst takes on the gig economy… and wins
We spoke to Mags about why she’s ‘biting the hand that feeds her’

Utopia: Daring to dream
Imagining a better world is the first step towards creating one. Ruth Potts introduces our special utopian issue

A better Brexit
The left should not tail-end the establishment Bremoaners, argues Michael Calderbank

News from movements around the world
Compiled by James O’Nions

Podemos: In the Name of the People
'The emergence as a potential party of government is testament both to the richness of Spanish radical culture and the inventiveness of activists such as Errejón' - Jacob Mukherjee reviews Errejón and Mouffe's latest release

Survival Shake! – creative ways to resist the system
Social justice campaigner Sakina Sheikh describes a project to embolden young people through the arts

‘We don’t want to be an afterthought’: inside Momentum Kids
If Momentum is going to meet the challenge of being fully inclusive, a space must be provided for parents, mothers, carers, grandparents and children, write Jessie Hoskin and Natasha Josette

The Kurdish revolution – a report from Rojava
Peter Loo is supporting revolutionary social change in Northern Syria.

How to make your own media
Lorna Stephenson and Adam Cantwell-Corn on running a local media co-op

Book Review: The EU: an Obituary
Tim Holmes takes a look at John Gillingham's polemical history of the EU

Book Review: The End of Jewish Modernity
Author Daniel Lazar reviews Enzo Traverso's The End of Jewish Modernity

Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants
Ida-Sofie Picard introduces Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants – as told to Jenny Nelson

Book review: Angry White People: Coming Face to Face With the British Far-Right
Hilary Aked gets close up with the British far right in Hsiao-Hung Pai's latest release

University should not be a debt factory
Sheldon Ridley spoke to students taking part in their first national demonstration.

Book Review: The Day the Music Died – a Memoir
Sheila Rowbotham reviews the memoirs of BBC director and producer, Tony Garnett.

Power Games: A Political History
Malcolm Maclean reviews Jules Boykoff's Power Games: A Political History

Book Review: Sex, Needs and Queer Culture: from liberation to the post-gay
Aiming to re-evaluate the radicalism and efficacy of queer counterculture and rebellion - April Park takes us through David Alderson's new work.

A book review every day until Christmas at Red Pepper
Red Pepper will be publishing a new book review each day until Christmas

Book Review: Corbyn: The Strange Rebirth of Radical Politics
'In spite of the odds Corbyn is still standing' - Alex Doherty reviews Seymour's analysis of the rise of Corbyn

From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation
'A small manifesto for black liberation through socialist revolution' - Graham Campbell reviews Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor's 'From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation'

The abolition of Art History A-Level will exacerbate social inequality
This is a massive blow to the rights of ordinary kids to have the same opportunities as their more privileged peers. Danielle Child reports.

Mass civil disobedience in Sudan
A three-day general strike has brought Sudan to a stand still as people mobilise against the government and inequality. Jenny Nelson writes.

Mustang film review: Three fingers to Erdogan
Laura Nicholson reviews Mustang, Deniz Gamze Erguven’s unashamedly feminist film critique of Turkey’s creeping conservatism

What if the workers were in control?
Hilary Wainwright reflects on an attempt by British workers to produce a democratically determined alternative plan for their industry

Airport expansion is a racist policy
Climate change is a colonial crisis, writes Jo Ram

Momentum Kids: the parental is political
Momentum Kids is not about indoctrinating children, but rather the more radical idea that children have an important role to play in shaping the future, writes Kristen Hope

New Cross fights new wave of housing privatisation
Lewisham residents object to a new trend in local authority housing developments

Stand-off with prison profiteers at the Tower of London
Marienna Pope-Weidemann reports on disruption at the European Custody and Detention Summit


21