24 Dec 2021
Charlie Toko, Damian Verguson, Isabel Monroe, Ajay Kalyansingh
Robbery and police “stop and search” are placed cheek by jowl in Tony Mitsinga’s Target
Institutional racism within the UK is indefatigable. In under two weeks, the Johnson government has set in motion the Police Bill and the Nationality and Borders Bill: the most draconian legislation observed in decades, granting governmental authority to strip a person of their citizenship without warning – disproportionately affecting millions of BAME citizens – and expanding police “stop and search” powers to unfathomable heights. But as the foulness of this state-sanctioned evil festers, it is essential to acknowledge the work of filmmakers refusing to remain taciturn in the face of racism: Tony Mitsinga’s Target is no exception.
A powerful no-budget short about the frightening similarities between criminal gangs and the police, Target places these two entities cheek by jowl; their attitudes posited in the same framework of aggression: one scenario a robbery, the other a stop and search – by the end of the film’s one-minute running time, there is little to distinguish the two.
And as writer-director, Mitsinga is adept at showing the mechanics of fear underpinning the speech of these violent criminals and so-called agents of the law: “oi, what are you doing in these ends, fam?”, asks one thug (Damian Verguson); “tell us where you’re coming from and where you’re going”, asks a policeman (Charlie Toko) - these intrusive questions are broken down to their intimidatory essentials, the only discernible difference is their delivery.
Here, words are weapons; cruel little devices used to enforce a regime of humiliation over their victims. But of the two encounters, the police appear most terrifying. Their powers to “stop and search” – or harass and harangue – are hidden under a cloak of legitimacy; a systemic process of intimidation protected by law. Do not show fear, though. This would be admittance of guilt: “you seem nervous, are you hiding something?”.
Though packed with emotional heft, these disturbing set pieces are not infallible: slipshod costume design dons the police officers in fancy dress-esque uniforms constituted by ill-fitting caps and comically large badges; venomous taunts are sometimes diluted by poor line delivery; turbulent camerawork shakes – assumingly by accident – from one end of the screen to the other.
But these flaws are few too far and between to interfere with Mitsinga’s ambition. Target is an uncomfortable nay essential reminder that racism is a pervasive force: an evil found on our streets and in our homes; an evil embedded in law and upheld by its agents.