This post was originally published on Sacramento Observer
By Genoa Barrow | Senior Staff Writer
Films can be an escape from reality or a reflection of it, and Black filmmakers have long chronicled the realities of police brutality and how race and race relations play out in the policing of communities of color.
Most films that feature violence and adult language come with restrictive labels suggesting they be viewed by mature audiences or only with a parent or adult guardian present. Below are 14 films that should come with a trigger warning about how “art imitates life” and the parallels that can be drawn between what’s on the screen and the ongoing trauma the Black community is experiencing locally and across the nation.
“American Skin,” starring Nate Parker, Omari Hardwick, Beau Knapp, and Theo Rossi. Rated R (2021). A Black teenager is killed by a White officer during a traffic stop. His father takes justice into his own hands after officials fail to press charges.
“Do the Right Thing,” starring Spike Lee, Bill Nunn, Giancarlo Esposito, and Danny Aiello. Rated R (1989). A young Black man, Radio Raheem, is killed by a White police officer as racial tensions boil over on the hottest day in a Black neighborhood in New York. Spike Lee infused real incidents into the film, including mention of Eleanor Bumpurs, a senior who was killed by a White officer who was trying to enforce an eviction of her, and Tawana Brawley, a Black teen who accused a group of White police officers and a prosecutor of sexually assaulting her and covering her with feces, before placing her in a garbage bag and dumping her.
“Fruitvale Station,” starring Michael B. Jordan and Octavia Spencer. Rated R (2013). Based on the true story of Oscar Grant, the Oakland father killed on a BART platform when White transit officer Johannes Mehserle said he mistook his gun for his taser. Directorial debut of Sacramento State alum Ryan Coogler, who went on to further success with “Creed” and “Black Panther.”
“Seven Seconds,” starring Regina King, Russell Hornsby and Beau Knapp. Limited Netflix series (2018). A White police officer accidentally kills a Black boy and veteran officers encourage and aid him in covering up the crime. His mother refuses to let their lie stand.
“The Hate U Give,” starring Amandla Stenberg, Algee Smith, Regina Hall, and Russell Hornsby. Rated PG-13 (2018). A young Black girl deals with the aftermath of seeing her friend killed by a police officer who mistakes a hairbrush for a gun when they’re pulled over. Directed and produced by George Tillman Jr. (“Soul Food,” “Barbershop” and “Notorious.”)
“Queen & Slim,” starring Daniel Kaluuya and Jodie Turner Smith. Rated R (2019). A blind date goes really bad when two strangers get pulled over by a racist cop who ends up dead. The two go on the run and become viral cult heroes in the Black community. Video director Melina Matsoukas makes her big-screen debut. Written by Lena Waithe (“The Chi,” “Twenties”).
“Detroit,” starring John Boyega and Anthony Mackie. Rated R (2017). After a shooting, a group of racist cops converge on a local hotel and attempt to coerce confessions out of Black guests. Based on part of the 1967 Detroit Riots.
“Black and Blue,” starring Naomi Harris and Tyrese Gibson. Rated R (2020). A Black female rookie captures corrupt officers killing a Black man on her body camera and must outrun them as they chase her down in an attempt to destroy the footage. A film from Sacramento’s own Deon Taylor and his Hidden Empire Film Group.
“Body Cam,” starring Mary J Blige. Rated R (2020). A White officer is mysteriously killed during a routine traffic stop. A Black female officer discovers body cam footage reveals a much darker secret: officers who killed a deaf Black boy and covered it up. Anika Noni Rose plays the boy’s mother, who is bent on revenge.
“Straight Outta Compton,” starring O’Shea Jackson Jr., Corey Hawkins and Jason Mitchell. Rated R (2015). There’s a reason the rap group N.W.A said “F**k tha Police.” Directed by F. Gary Gray.
“Boyz n the Hood,” starring Cuba Gooding Jr., Ice Cube and Laurence Fishburne. Rated R (1991). A boy is sent to live with his father and grows up seeing the gritty realities of South Central L.A. The scene between Tre Styles and the Black police officer (played all too well by actor Jessie Lawrence Ferguson) is particularly poignant in John Singleton’s directorial debut.
“The Wood,” starring Sean Nelson, Omar Epps, Taye Diggs, Richard T. Jones and De’Aundre Bonds. Rated R (1999). The film is a coming of age story billed as a romantic comedy, but the scene where the young men are stopped by a menacing Black police officer (also played by Ferguson) on the way to a school dance is relatable to far too many, who in watching it are reminded being pulled over and harassed for “fitting the description” or simply driving while Black.
“Surviving The Game,” Ice-T, Charles S. Dutton, Rutger Hauer, and Gary Busey. Rated R (1994). This action thriller will remind some viewers of the death of Ahmaud Arbery, the Black jogger who was chased down and murdered by a White father and son in Florida last year. Rapper-turned-actor Ice-T plays a homeless man lured up to a remote cabin, where he’s chased for sport by a wealthy, mostly White, “hunting team.” Directed by Ernest R. Dickerson
“When They See Us,” Starring Jharrel Jerome, Asante Black and Michael K. Williams. Netflix mini series (2019). Ava DuVernay tells the true story of five Black and Latino teens from New York who spent years incarcerated after White officers railroaded them for a brutal beating and murder in Central Park.
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