Cory Bowles (director and writer), Jeffery Wheaton (cinematographer), Jeremy Harty (editor)
Ronnie Rowe, Sophia Walker, Simon Paul Mutuyimana (cast)
Released September 11, 2017 (Toronto International Film Festival 2017)
It seems like the best was left for last because I thoroughly enjoyed watching Black Cop on the final day of the Toronto International Film Festival. In the film, the character black cop (never named) is profiled and assaulted by his peers, and that becomes the catalyst for a role reversal: a black officer profiling and terrorizing white citizens.
This isn’t a simple case of the oppressed utilizing the tools of oppression against the oppressor. It’s about the black cop as someone straddling the line of being seen as a race traitor within his community, while also understanding that outside of his uniform, he’s just as susceptible to racial profiling and police brutality. It’s about the limits of tokenism and the “cult of blue,” where being a policeman trumps all other identities and which often has even marginalized groups participating in state-sanctioned violence.
It’s about someone who is angry and who is punished for that anger. Probably one of the most memorable scenes of this film is when black cop is placed against a black background and is lit with blue on one side and red on the other. Then he’s suddenly lit in red and rages at the audience, before then being lit in blue only and smiling calmly. When he’s back to being lit by both, his face is neutral, a steely gaze that refuses to give away anything that may suggest a complex human being inside its uniform.
Bowles’ narrative approach is so interesting as it mixes the ongoing linear story with artistic detours like the scene I described above. They’re linked by black cop’s narration, a radio host’s voice, people’s opinions of racism and police violence, and music. The music is well-chosen and thought out, and mixes instrumental jazz, hip hop, and a dash of rock.
A great moment of the music carrying a scene is just after the police release black cop after realizing he’s “one of them.” We watch him alone in the scene, framed from the waist up with a chain-linked fence between him and the audience. He seems outwardly calm. He slowly chooses a song, places his earphones in his ears, lifts up his hoodie onto his head, and then continues his run before the altercation occurred. This scene feels like it lasts five minutes, and the whole time the music contradicts what we’re seeing on screen. The instrumental jazz is frantic and building until just before he runs. Then it quiets down and fades away. It’s kind of like when you’ve reached a sudden calm. The kind where you’re slowing the descent of spiraling emotions into a more controlled state. It felt so…familiar.
I could literally go on and on about how great this film is, but I’ll take this time to praise Ronnie Rowe, who did a stellar job. It’s also important to note that this film is a Canadian film, even though it doesn’t go out of its way to say it within the narrative. The Canadian factor is important because so many Canadians and those outside of Canada don’t think racism exists here. There’s a false belief that police brutality is an American problem. This isn’t true obviously, which is why this film is crucial in our move to a more equitable society. I hope it gets the funding it needs to be distributed across the country.