Alton Sterling and Philando Castile are yet another set of names we won’t forget. The consequent polarity of media representation regarding isolated events threatens to intercept an honest conversation about the institutional bias of law enforcement. The pattern is at once endemic and global. Here is a list of 14 movies that have sought to illuminate the deeper problem with police, racism and systemic abuse — on a global scale.
1. Ciutat Morta; 2014, 123 minutes
Poetic injustice and Kafkaesque absurdity set foot in Spain on February 4, 2006, when a police officer was injured during an attempt to disassemble a street party. Judicial drama followed, with the sole purpose of placing responsibility on five young people — none of whom were present at the scene. Procedural twists and turns climaxed when one of the suspects committed suicide. Patricia Heras’ death awakened the community’s collective memory of decades of structural abuse. This documentary asks: Who is meant to hold power accountable?
2. The Glass Shield; 1994, 109 minutes
Maestro Charles Burnett paints the oblique structures of law enforcement with meditative strokes. There’s no fanfare. Corruption and racism are perceived as matter-of-fact capitalist inevitability. The film went into production shortly after the 1992 Los Angeles riots.
See also: El bonaerense; 2000.
3. Once Upon A Crime: U.S. Police Brutality; 2016, 26 minutes
If harm and injury are measured in punitive terms, why does the distribution of guilt lapse when its bearer is in uniform? The film does not have many answers at all. Its short format plays off the immediate reactions to losing someone to violent, senseless means — grief, confusion, heartache — but does give an inkling of more fundamental issues with police brutality.
See also: Fruitvale Station; 2013.
4. The FBI’s War on Black America; 1990, 50 minutes
COINTELPRO — a Hoover government program for FBI surveillance strategy in the ’60s and ’70s — undercut the civil rights movement’s turbulent aspirations, and consequently drafted institutional mistreatment that’s plaguing activists and minorities today.
5. Distrust of Crisis: Police and Community in Toronto; 2014, 29 min
A diverse, sobering array of interviews shine light on police processes such as racial profiling which disrupt communities and trivialise trust.
See also: Profiling Race – Mike Higgins; 2016.
6. Ônibus 174; 2002, 150 minutes
On June 12, 2000, Sandro Rosa do Nascimento robbed a Rio bus. It became one of the tensest hostage situations in the history of Brazil. Years earlier, the young man had survived the harrowing Candelária massacre in which eight street children were murdered by the police. The journey of one scarred man was really a portrait of the systematic failure of a government.
7. Shenandoah; 2013, 24 minutes
This immaculately shot documentary cuts into the heart of a small community amidst the cover-up of a hate crime murder of a Mexican immigrant.
8. Killing Them Safely; 2015, 100 minutes
Taser’s brutal statistical footprint is strongly in conflict with its engineered reputation as a harmless stunning device. Killing Them Safely points its camera right where two modern evils — branding and systemic abuse — overlap.
9. The Murder of Fred Hampton; 1971, 88 minutes
This chronicle of the leader of the Illinois branch of Black Panther Party became an epitaph as he was murdered by Chicago police during the movie’s production.
See also: The Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975; 2011 & Let The Fire Burn; 2013.
10. Injustice; 2001, 130 minutes
The documentary penetrates the British legal system’s slanted conjuncture when dealing with deaths in police custody.
11. Ferguson: A Report from Occupied Territory; 2015, 53 minutes
Ferguson upset and its social media manifestation paved the way for just about every subsequent on- and offline discourse about the meeting point of discrimination and law enforcement.
See also: No Justice No Peace; 2013.
12. 3 1/2 Minutes, Ten Bullets; 2015, 98 minutes
There is no direct link to police brutality in this documentary. Instead, its tragedy unfolds between regular citizens caught in the crosshairs of casual hostility, enforced by stand-your-ground-laws.
13. Four Days of Death in December; 2011, 12 minutes
Protests and other public expressions of resistance often solicit the application of fists by the law enforcement. Cairo filmmakers, the Mosireen collective, keep a finger on the pulse of the Egyptian revolution, showering the web with video material, so as not to let the voice of the people quench. The Square, a similar Netflix production, also deserves a mention, even though it presents a more sanitised look into the unfinished revolution.
14. The Life and Death of Steve Biko; 1977, 26 minutes
Steve Biko was not the first nor the last to die at the hands of the police. However, the death of this South African anti-apartheid activist made waves, and documentaries like this celebrate the revolutionary aim which justify the often tragic means.