Charles Burnett Talks 'The Glass Shield' - His Most Explicitly Political Film - on Its 22nd Birthday
Photo Credit: Ice Cube in "The Glass Shield" / Charles Burnett

Charles Burnett Talks 'The Glass Shield' - His Most Explicitly Political Film - on Its 22nd Birthday

Ice Cube in "The Glass Shield" / Charles Burnett
Ice Cube in “The Glass Shield” / Charles Burnett

Released on this day in film history, June 2, 1995, Charles Burnett’s excellent drama “The Glass Shield” is his most explicitly political film. But it is also, perhaps, somewhat frustrating as well. Not that it was his intention. Even Burnett will admit that the film was not exactly the film he wanted to make.

The only feature by Burnett to date that was financed by a major film studio, Miramax, which, at the time (in the 80’s and 90’s), was an industry powerhouse, Burnett ran into some major interference and was forced to make changes, including shooting a different ending, which he felt compromised his original vision for the film.

However, it did get rave reviews, praising the film’s thoughtfulness, creativity and subtlety in the handling of its subject matter. And the picture still hold ups very well today, becoming even more relevant than ever.

Its story centers on a black deputy (Michael Boatman) within his police department who experiences first-hand a deep-seated culture of racism within the LAPD. But he gets in over his head in an effort to fit in when he participates in the questionable arrest of Teddy Woods (Ice Cube). But when Boatman discovers that he has unintentionally made himself complicit in a far-reaching frame-up, he and fellow ostracized cop Barbara (Victoria Dillard) set out to bring a clandestine and racist power structure within the LAPD to its knees.

The film has been available on DVD for a while; however the British Film Institute home video label has released it, for the first time, on blu-ray with extras, like the original ending of the film, as well as a brand new interview with Burnett. Of course this being a British disc, it’s a Region 2 release which means that many of you in the USA won’t be able to play the blu-ray on domestic players, unless you have an all region blu-ray player.

But look for a specialty label such as Criterion, Shout factory or Kino to eventually release it on blu-ray in the USA.

Charles Burnett became known to world cinema when his 1978 UCLA thesis film, “Killer of Sheep,” won the Critics’ Prize at the 1981 Berlin Film Festival. His reputation among cinephiles never quite seeped into the mainstream, even though his 1990 classic “To Sleep with Anger” is one of the strongest films about the black experience in modern America.

“The Glass Shield” would come a few years later, with early screenings happening around the time of the O.J. Simpson trial. A cinematic indictment of the racist power structure of the LAPD, the film also features strong performances from Bernie Casey and Elliott Gould.

In a 2016 videotaped conversation that followed the screening of “The Glass Shield” by Film Society in New York City, Burnett fields questions about the film, its making, style and approach, as well as offers some analysis on how it still resonates today.

The 30 minute discussion follows:

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