Weekend Movie Takeaway: Will the BLM Movement Have a Lasting Impact on Film and TV?
June 29, 2020
As 2020 continues to shake up modern life in a manner not seen in some time, the business of storytelling is reshaping itself to adjust to the upheaval.
We've already talked about in this space about how theCOVID-19 lockdown has affected not only production itself, but raised the question of how or whether contemporary stories should acknowledge its impact on daily life.
The resurgent Black Lives Matter movement, which will (hopefully) have a much more permanent impact on society than the COVID-19 crisis, is now generating bigger questions not only around the lack of diversity in the people who write our screen stories, but in the role those stories have played in perpetuating the perceptions that lead to the protests in the first place.
But the recent cancellation of police-centric reality series Cops and Live PD only hints at the degree to which popular media has defined the role of the police in society. Reality shows are one thing, but with the cop drama being more or less the most prominent genre in TV history, some are now facing greater scrutiny over how they have portrayed the police as figures of heroic virtue. That perception is one understandably not shared by many people of color, whose own experiences with the police aren't reflected in most TV cops.
Prolific crime show producer Dick Wolf, the man behind the Law & Order, Chicago and FBI franchises, is facing criticism for contributing to a perception of policing and the legal system that doesn't ring true for a large percentage of the populace.
TV shows and films contribute immeasurably to how America perceives itself, and it's not hard to see how santized portrayals of policing only make it harder for those with more privileged interactions with the legal system to comprehend how bad it is for people of color.
Warren Leight, the showrunner of Wolf's longest-running series Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, recently addressed the matter on the Hollywood Reporter's TV podcast, admitting to shows like his “miscontributing” to society by presenting police as (mostly) virtuous.
Terry Crews, one of the stars comedy hit Brooklyn 99, which follows a bunch of well-meaning cops in New York squad room, recently announced that the series has thrown out four completed scripts already written for the upcoming season eight in light of the protests against police brutality.
It's a significant, not to mention expensive, measure for a network comedy to take, and speaks to the tangibility of the change that is (again, hopefully) sweeping the industry.
The lighthearted series had previously addressed real-life issues regarding race and policing in a season four episode that saw Crews' character being racially profiled while off duty, but they'll have their work cut out for them trying to stay funny while incorporating such a dramatic shift in societal attitudes towards policing.
Nevertheless, it's a good thing that they are at least acknowledging the changing norms, and it'll be interesting to see how many other cop-centric shows follow suit.
Written by: Dominic CorryDominic Corry is a Los Angeles-based film critic, writer, journalist and broadcaster. Raised in New Zealand, he is also the West Coast editor of Letterboxd, the social network for movie lovers. For more of his film writing, see his website www.TheGoodInMovies.com