Monday, July 15, 2024

Top 5 This Week

Related Posts

Filmmaker Yance Ford presents the police as the ‘armies that they have become’ in ‘Power’

Mark Olsen – Los Angeles Times (TNS)

Charting the history of policing in America, the new documentary “Power” is rooted in questions: Who exactly are the police meant to serve? And whose interests are they protecting? Utilizing an essay form, the film turns to an impressive roster of legal experts, scholars, journalists and law-enforcement officials to bring the viewer along for an inquisitive probing of an issue that cuts to the core of social divides.

When director Yance Ford’s 2017 film “Strong Island,” was nominated for an Oscar for documentary feature, it made him the first openly transgender director to have a film nominated for an Academy Award.

“Strong Island” examines the story of how Ford’s brother William, then a 24-year-old teacher, was shot to death by a white 19-year-old mechanic in 1992 in an incident a grand jury found justifiable. The film explores in intimate detail the impact the criminal justice system has on one family’s grief.

With “Power,” Ford takes on a much broader scope, while still grounding the documentary very much in personal inquiry and curiosity. The core missions of police to protect property and control populations are often at odds with public safety and community concerns. Though the film does not provide easy answers, it does point in the direction of what could be done to make relations between police and citizens less oppositional.

“This film is a tool for people who do this work,” said Ford, 52, during a recent interview. “I hoped that it would be something that people who work to reimagine our definition of public safety can use.”

“Power,” which premiered earlier this year at the Sundance Film Festival, begins streaming on Netflix May 17. While traveling to promote the film, Ford recently spoke with The Times on Zoom from Toronto.

Q: Before we get into the movie, as you’ve been watching the images of police officers on college campuses across the country being called in to clear encampments of student protesters — what do you make of that? 

A: It’s so hard to put into words what I make of it, because when I see these images, I’m reminded of how little we learn from history. I’m reminded of how easy it is for people to regurgitate talking points that were used to delegitimize student movements in the ’60s, talk of outside agitators, talk of professional agitators. It’s all so familiar in a way that honestly makes me wonder if the United States is simply doomed to repeat the past over and over again. The universities are calling in police to do what police do, which is to contain and control and remove people who are seen as disturbances to the status quo.

Q: “Strong Island” was such a personal film, exploring your family’s experience with the criminal justice system. Did “Power” come out of an attempt to get a 10,000-foot view on what you had gone through? 

A: In many ways, I’ve been thinking about policing since there were detectives in my parents’ house explaining to them why the person who killed my brother wasn’t going to be charged with a crime. But when George Floyd was murdered and the protests were happening in the aftermath, I saw and felt something different in the reaction of police to the protests around the country. And in the city where I live, New York, that felt different. It felt dangerous. It felt unrestrained. And it felt like there had been a shift. This feeling got me asking the question “Is this what police are for” in a way that felt different than the times I had asked that question in the past. These were police acting as an occupying force and acting, quite frankly, as the armies that they have become.

And that’s what started the line of questioning that turned into the film. It was less about the 10,000-foot view of what my family had gone through and more about what I was seeing play out on the streets in the United States and around the world. Being in New York watching protesters being kettled [a crowd-control confinement tactic], pepper-sprayed — aggression is not even the word. It was the kind of violent response that reacted as if protesters were the problem, as opposed to Derek Chauvin’s murder of George Floyd being the problem. And so when I saw this violent response to protests, I started asking the question about the purpose and the meaning and the function of police in a different way.

Q: The film begins with a statement from you in which you say, “This film requires curiosity, or at least suspicion.” Can you expand on that?

A: I put that at the top of the film because I know that this subject of policing is one where the current debate has been Black Lives Matter [or] Blue Lives Matter. Whenever policing is brought up as an “issue,” there are folks who will think that a documentary will be a polemic against the police or that a documentary will be something that reinforces their own analysis of policing. And what I wanted to do was invite the audience, regardless of where they sit in relation to this issue, to come to the film as they are. So I know that if you are of a particular viewpoint that you will be suspicious of me and my intentions. And so I wanted to say: You know what? I get it. I don’t assume that you’re going to trust me if you’re suspicious. I want you to watch the film anyway. I understand that you might be curious to learn the information in this film because you’re predisposed to being interested, and that predisposition is also fine. I recognize all of that and I’d like you to engage with the film anyway.

Q: One of the things included that made me feel I had a lot to learn is the simple fact that the first municipal police force didn’t even start until the 1880s. That sounds so recent. I know for myself and I think probably many viewers, there is an assumption that police existed long before that. 

A: I think that’s the great thing about this film. It is fact-checked up one side and down the other. Because I assume and expect that when we release the film, that there will be people who say, “That’s not right.” And thankfully my partners at Multitude Films and the entire team, as well as our fantastic fact-checker, will all be able to say, “Actually, no, we have our receipts here. We’ve done the research.” And policing is not as old as you think it is. It is a mid-19th century invention, and it was not invented to ensure or to maintain public safety or to fight crime.

It was invented to protect property and to control property and to control movement and to break up unions and to help the country expand westward by removing Indigenous people from their land. There are many ways in which people can debate policing and where it might go from here. But one of the really important things for us was to establish facts and to research these facts in such a way that you can’t actually argue with them. By doing that, we help people get outside the moment and start to think about the ways in which history impacts the present.

Q: One of the most surprising characters in the film is Charlie Adams, the Minneapolis police officer working to reform policing from within the institution itself. To see someone so close to where George Floyd lived and died, and to get this sense that policing doesn’t have to exist the way that we know it — how did you come to find Charlie Adams? 

A: We researched a lot of different police officers, police commanders, police chiefs around the country who were doing work in their departments. And Charlie Adams rose to a place on the list that was interesting to us because he is in Minneapolis and he’s been doing work for a long time trying to help his officers at the 4th Precinct understand the perspective of the community and the people who live in the community in which they serve. Charlie Adams is a great character because he is someone who you see has good intentions, but he’s also someone who is restricted by the contours of the institution in which he works. There are aspects of the criminal legal system that limit the effectiveness of what he can do. I think that Charlie Adams tries to do what he can, but then when you see this thing where he butts up against the reality of policing, that helps you understand that it has to be about more than individual chiefs or individual officers.

When we think about what keeps communities safe, we can’t fall into this trap of talking about the behavior of individuals or to try another round of reforms that come from policing out into the community. We really have to approach it in a different way and about solutions that come from communities to police, and think about institutional reform or reimagine a different institution. I think that’s one of the things that being with Inspector Adams really shows is that there’s a really powerful institution behind every individual officer. And it’s the institution that needs to be addressed.

Q: There’s a moment in the film when you say to an interview subject that you want to address this idea of the “we-ness of it all.” Is that one of the challenges in talking about policing? Is it difficult to address the issues and concerns of all these separate communities, different people, different sets of “we”?

A: “Who is the ‘we,'” in my view, relates directly to the question at the end of the film about power conceding nothing without a demand. Because knowing who the “we” is is a part of defining what the demand will be. What demand are you going to make of police? What demand am I going to make of police? As soon as we get specific about who the we is, then we can drill down and understand what we will demand of policing. Because for too long the people whose job it is to regulate police, to tell police what their job is and how to do their job, they’ve walked away from it or they’ve left it up to police to be this self-regulating industry.

If it were a business, we would say, “Internet companies, you can regulate yourselves.” And we know from history how well self-regulation has gone in the business world. But we haven’t had people in elected office who’ve been willing to take up their responsibility to regulate the police. And so people are deciding that it’s their job as citizens to do so.

Q: Why did you choose to call the film “Power” as opposed to simply calling it “Police”?

A: Because they’re synonyms — they are one and the same. Police are the power of the state made real. You and I and other people, some more so than you and I, will interact with police way more often than they will interact with their elected representative or senator. So in terms of how the government and the state is made manifest in people’s lives, the answer to that is police. When you think about who is the most powerful person, like [journalist] Wes Lowery says, in this country, on a day-to-day basis, it’s police for most people. And so I wanted to just be really clear about the lens through which the film is going to look at police and policing.

And it’s also just a great title, if I do say so myself. It tells you what you’re going to see. When you buy a ticket to a film called “Power,” you’ve got a sense of what you’re in for.

©2024 Los Angeles Times. Visit Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

This article has been viewed


Popular Articles