fri 14/08/2020

Stephen: The Murder That Changed A Nation, BBC One review - ‘He was a cool guy and everybody loved him’ | reviews, news & interviews

Stephen: The Murder That Changed A Nation, BBC One review - ‘He was a cool guy and everybody loved him’

Stephen: The Murder That Changed A Nation, BBC One review - ‘He was a cool guy and everybody loved him’

New three part documentary marks 25 years since the murder of Stephen Lawrence

Stephen Lawrence as a child© The Baroness Lawrence of Clarendon OBE

When doctors told Doreen Lawrence her son had died she thought, "That’s not true." Spending time with his body in the hospital, aside from a cut on his cheek, it seemed to her he was sleeping. The death of a child will always be strange, and in the aftermath Neville, his father and her husband, even wondered if he might have been struck by the Biblical curse of the loss of his first-born.

Quarter of a century after Stephen Lawrence was killed in an unprovoked racist attack on Well Hall Road in Eltham, a pall of unreality still hangs over his murder. Doreen and Neville’s pain remains raw and Stephen’s death just as impossible to fathom: "You think you’re watching a play or a drama; it’s just not real."The Baroness Lawrence of Clarendon, Doreen Lawrence © BBC/On The Corner/Jessica WinteringhamStephen: The Murder That Changed A Nation (BBC One), a three-part documentary by Asif Kapadia and James Gay-Rees, airs over consecutive nights and deals with the events of that evening and their effects. By collating interviews, archive footage and clips from the 1999 television film The Murder of Stephen Lawrence, it attempts to make sense of the tangled consequences whereby Stephen’s murder became a lighting rod for inquiries into institutionalised racism in the Metropolitan Police, and dramatic changes to the workings of the judicial system.

Stephen Lawrence © The Baroness Lawrence of Clarendon OBEThe first episode focusses mainly on Stephen’s family, what happened that night, and the glacial pace by which the investigation proceeded. The manner of Doreen and Neville’s questioning by family liaison officers was just one in a series of indignities that, according to their lawyer Imran Khan, made clear "they were asking questions they were there to obtain information". Like his murder, the assumption that Stephen had been into crime or drugs was based solely on the colour of his skin and as Doreen wondered then and now, would her family’s experiences with the police have been the same if a white boy had been stabbed?

It’s a programme shot through with pain and sounds alarm bells for the present moment. Duwayne Brooks who was with Stephen at the bus stop that night describes how his school friend was "a cool guy and everybody loved him," while Mat Bickley recalls his cousin as a charismatic teenager living through a time when "London felt quite inclusive, quite cosmopolitan, quite positive really". Archive footage picks out Stephen at the front of gigs; home video has him winking at the camera. But the economy wasn’t in great shape, the BNP and National Front were on the rise and "leading up to Steve’s murder — and soon after — it changed radically. Much in the way that Brexit changed the nation."

Stephen’s death came to mean so much more than simply senseless racist murder of a black teenager and the documentary draws attention to how reality seemed to outpace fiction as the consequences unfolded and grew in magnitude. Explanations of how a visit from Nelson Mandela was arranged and how it came about the Daily Mail sided with the Lawrence family bend belief and hint at the strangeness of how this teenager’s murder led to decades of investigations, judicial change and investigations into the racism in the Met police.Neville Lawrence © BBC/On The CornerHad Stephen lived, he would have been in his early forties — about the same age as the 13 black teenagers who perished in the Deptford Fire, and Rolan Adams and Rohit Duggal who were also murdered in Eltham. These racist attacks were also slackly investigated by the police, but it was Stephen’s murder that set in motion long overdue change.

The next two episodes will look at the institutional and systemic changes Stephen’s death provoked, but what stands out in this episode is the immense courage of his family, the depth of their grief and the urgent fact that things desperately needed to change.

@_kwaters_

Like his murder, the assumption that Stephen had been into crime or drugs was based solely on the colour of his skin and as Doreen wondered then and now, would her family’s experiences with the police have been the same if a white boy had been stabbed?

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