(2017) Documentary (Magnetbox/Buffalo 8) Fred Williamson, Gavin Newsom, Melvin Russell, Catherine E. Pugh, Pastor Michael Freeman, Jameel “Zookie” McGee, Andrew Collins, A.J. Ali, Chance M. Glenn Sr., Tim McMillan, Bobby F. Kimbrough Jr., Tsega Hapte, Jose Carvajal, Cheryl Dorsey. Directed by A.J. Ali
It is no secret that one of the most inflammatory topics in American culture currently is the relationship between the justice system and the African-American community. There is no doubt that our brothers and sisters of color have every right to be angry and frustrated – if you do doubt it, watch the first half of the film, of the footage of Eric Garner being choked to death, of the cases of Trayvon Martin and Walter Scott, of Philando Castile dying in the hands of the Baltimore police department.
You won’t see George Floyd or any more contemporary cases here – this movie was made more than four years ago and is only now appearing on VOD platforms (see below for details). However, it is just as timely now as it was then. The film isn’t just a laundry list of grievances against the cops, however – although that could fill a documentary in and of itself – but also gives the perspective of the police force, of cops encountering systemic racism in their own departments, community leaders of color who experienced racial profiling and those working in the legal system showing how even judges and prosecutors are pressured to convict black suspects.
The second half of the film focuses on changing mindsets, of forgiving past injustices and moving forward to a better future. Love is used as an acronym here – L stands for Learning About People and Communities, O for Opening Our Hearts and Being Empathic, V for Volunteering to be Part of the Solution, and E for Empowering Others. Some examples of how those concepts are being carried out are discussed.
One of the more inspiring examples is that of Jameel “Zookie” McGee, a black father who was unjustly arrested and ended up serving four years he didn’t owe. Andrew Collins, the arresting officer, had his eyes opened by the experience and wanted to make amends. He and McGee ended up meeting and McGee ended up forgiving him for his transgression. The two have since forged an impressive friendship.
Also worthy of notice is Colonel Melvin Russell of the Baltimore P.D. As a detective, he was told by officers above him in the chain of command that he was only suited for undercover work buying narcotics rather than the work he wanted to do – being an actual detective – because he wasn’t smart enough due to the color of his skin. He would go on not only to prove those men wrong, but to become one of the most decorated officers in the city and leading an effort to changing the relationship between his department and the predominantly black communities they serve.
The movie relies an awful lot on talking head interviews and that can become a bit stupefying after awhile, but the message is one worth hearing, particularly on the day that this is being published by Cinema365 – Juneteenth, the celebration of the end of slavery which was recently made a federal holiday. Racial relations in the United States remain a source of conflict in this country, particularly as there is a segment of our society that insists that there IS no conflict at this time, flying in the face of evidence to the contrary.
Some African-Americans wonder, not unjustly, why it is the African-American community that is always being tasked with being the ones to forgive. Well, the answer is simple – they are the ones being wronged. Forgiveness must come from their side; it cannot come from the side that did the wrongdoing. That doesn’t mean that the bulk of the work here has to be done by communities of color. On the contrary; the white community must learn to put aside their preconceptions and change their outlook. They must learn to trust people of color as they trust people who aren’t. Finally, and most importantly, they must learn to apply justice equally to everyone, regardless of race, or religion, or sexual identity, or gender, or anything else that might make them different. We are all, after all, in this same life together and share the same hopes and dreams. Once we begin to understand that, perhaps there won’t be a need for documentaries like this one in the future.
REASONS TO SEE: Spends the second half of the film on viable solutions.
REASONS TO AVOID: Talking head-heavy to a fault.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some profanity as well as disturbing images of violence.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This is Ali’s first feature as a director and writer.
BEYOND THE THEATER: AppleTV, Google Play, Vimeo, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 6/19/21: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet; Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Whose Streets?
FINAL RATING: 6.5/10
NEXT: Rita Moreno: Just a Girl Who Decided to Go For It