*(Editor’s note: Films marked with an asterisk below, among many, many others, were gifts from Jerry and Phyllis McCullough, longtime and generous donors to IU’s Media Services Department. The McCulloughs have made it possible for Media Services to share an incredible wealth of film resources with the IU and Bloomington communities, and we gratefully acknowledge their commitment and significant contributions. It is therefore with great sadness that we observe the recent passing of Mr. Jerry McCullough. Our continued thanks and sincere condolences to Phyllis McCullough.)
The year 2020 will be remembered as one of the most chaotic and unforgiving years in recent history. It was plagued with racial injustice, publicly visible white supremacy, police brutality, overcrowded prisons, corruption, and illness. Many Americans are looking at 2021 to be a year of change and enlightenment. A new president has been elected. As this AP article indicates, a majority of the American public sees the potential for a new wave of progress and reform in a number of major policy areas, top among those being law enforcement and the sprawling, inequitable American penal system.
There is growing concern within the US population about increased police brutality in the United States. Data shows that law enforcement violence disproportionately affects BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People Of Color) individuals and communities. According to Mapping Police Violence, 897 people were killed by police in 2020. Out of those 896, 28% of the victims were Black or of African descent. According to the United States Census, Black people make up roughly 13% of the population. This means that Black people are three times as likely to be killed by a police officer than a person who is White or of European descent. Historians and other scholars are documenting connections between contemporary police brutality and enforcement practices from the slavery and Reconstruction eras, and they are publishing their findings in outlets accessible to the general public. US politicians and employers are under increasing public pressure to recognize and remedy racial disparities in law enforcement and other areas. A majority of Americans express support for change and believe the time for police reform is now.
Captured On Film
Nowadays, because of body cameras, the public can often see police interactions exactly as they unfolded, soon after an event takes place. Long before that technology existed, however, filmmakers were bringing the subjects of police brutality and injustice to audiences. Below is a small sampling of the films available in IU Media Services’ collections on the subject.
Directed by Mathieu Kassowitz. In this French film, three young, unemployed Frenchmen living in the ghettos surrounding Paris get embroiled in a violent conflict with the local police.
Jake Hoyt, a fresh-faced rookie in the Los Angeles Police Department, gets a chance to join the elite narcotics squad headed up by 13-year veteran Detective Sergeant Alonzo Harris. Jake is to prove himself during a one-day ride-along. As the day wears on, it becomes increasingly clear that Detective Harris has blurred the line between right and wrong to an alarming degree, enforcing his own code of ethics and street justice. Eventually, Hoyt begins to suspect that he is, rather than having the opportunity to join the squad, being set up to take the fall.
After months have passed without a culprit in her daughter’s murder case, Mildred Hayes makes a bold move, painting three signs leading into her town with a controversial message directed at William Willoughby, the town’s revered chief of police. When his second-in-command, Officer Dixon, an immature mama’s boy with a penchant for violence, gets involved, the battle between Mildred and Ebbing’s law enforcement is only exacerbated.
In the same way that the United States’ history with regard to race can help contextualize contemporary police brutality, it can also be useful in understanding racial disparities in US incarceration rates. Ostensibly, a penal system is meant to rehabilitate offenders and send them back into society, having paid a fitting penalty for their offense, newly equipped with the social skills that prevent recidivism and capable of returning to the role of full citizen. In reality, many factors have come together to make mass incarceration a project with an entirely different focus.
13th is a 2016 American documentary film by director Ava DuVernay. The film explores the “intersection of race, justice, and mass incarceration in the United States;” it is titled after the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, adopted in 1865, which abolished slavery throughout the United States and ended involuntary servitude except as a punishment for conviction of a crime. (Synopsis: Wikipedia.org. 13th (Film). 25 February 2021, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/13th_(film)#:~:text=The%20film%20explores%20the%20%22intersection,as%20a%20punishment%20for%20conviction). This film is not currently available at Media Services but can be found streaming online. See this interview with the filmmaker for more information on her work and this award-winning and Oscar-nominated film (category of Best Documentary Feature, 2017).
Inspired by a true story, this is the story of a vicious Latino prison gang leader, doomed by his past to a life of harsh, unforgiving violence after his release from jail. He grows up in East Los Angeles, joins a street gang and is in prison while he is still of an age to be in high school. By the time he is back on the streets again, he is a skillful, educated criminal.
Oz (television series, first season premiered in 1997)
Welcome to Emerald City, an experimental unit of the Oswald Maximum Security Prison or OZ. As run by Tim McManus and overseen by Warden Leo Glenn, Em City is about prisoner rehabilitation over public retribution. No matter how hardened a criminal or killer, whether you’re in for a few years or in for life, you have a role to play. Once inside, choose your friends carefully.
Death Row guards at a penitentiary, in the 1930’s, have a moral dilemma with their job when they discover one of their prisoners, a convicted murderer, has a special gift. Based on the book by Stephen King.
Media Services has many more resources to support engagement of these important subjects. If you are interested in learning more, feel free to visit our department home page to find contact information, additional blog posts, new film acquisitions, and a guide to our many streaming services.
Content for this blog post provided by student staff member Donovan Harden and Media Services Assistant Heather Sloan.