With the seemingly constant murders of Black people at the hands of police across the globe, and in the United States specifically, it can feel unsettling to watch the relationships between police forces and the Black community on screen. However, for filmmaker Deon Taylor, even more urgently in the wake of the murders of Botham Jean and Atatiana Jefferson, this is a conversation that needs to continue.
Set in contemporary New Orleans, Taylor's latest thriller, Black and Blue, follows rookie police officer Alicia West (Naomie Harris) as she returns to her hometown after several tours in Afghanistan. With a newly minted police badge, Alicia finds herself shunned from the community she once left behind. Feeling like an outsider from her fellow "brothers and sisters in blue," and desiring to be of service, Alicia naively tries to extend her arms to the community and her colleagues, but both are equally suspicious of her motives.
In addition to her personal troubles, Alicia has joined a police force that is riddled with problems. Ultimately, things take a turn for the worst when she bears witness to the brutal murders of several young Black drug dealers at the hands of some corrupt cops, all of which have been recorded on her body cam. With both the cops and the Black community turning against her, Alicia turns to the one person who might be willing to help, her old friend, Milo "Mouse" Jackson (Tyrese Gibson). Knowing that her only means of survival is getting the video from her bodycam uploaded to the internet Alicia leans on Milo to help her navigate the streets.
Ahead of the film's debut, Shadow And Act caught up with Taylor, Harris, Gibson and co-stars Mike Colter, Nafessa Williams and Frank Grillo to talk about the heart-pounding thriller. We chatted about New Orleans as the landscape of this film and why it's so essential to keep discussing police brutality in the Black community.
"This is one of those roles that wasn't about me," Gibson reflected. "I was thinking about Biggie Smalls...as talented as he was, there are documentaries to this day that clearly point out that the police had something to do with his murder, but yet there's not a conviction. Eric Garner. As much as they reprimanded or slapped on the wrist the officer who choked and killed this man, what about the 15 officers who were standing there, who'd seen all of this go down who also got footage on their body cams and who have never spoken out about what they'd seen and what they'd witnessed? Black and Blue touches all of those vulnerabilities. It puts you right there, it puts you in that place."
New Orleans once was once home of one of the most corrupt police forces in the country. At one point, things had gotten so bad that the federal government had to step in and force reform. Though things are changing, there is still a long way to go. For Taylor, grounding his story in New Orleans post-Katrina also added texture to the film. "That city like so many cities in America has been damaged by corruption," he explained. "There are people that are actually in the cracks and in the crevices trying to make a change. I thought New Orleans was an incredible place for that. The entire movie is based in a world where we wanted to give people the action, we wanted to give people the jumps and the bumps, but at the center of the film we also wanted to make sure that you understood that this was a movie about humanity and intention and having integrity."
Black women are killed by the police at an alarming rate, and yet their stories and the stories of Black female cops are certainly not central in cinema. Harris was also more than willing to lend her voice to the conversation. "I wanted to do this because it's an entertaining movie, it's fun, it keeps you on the edge of your seat," she explained. "It's a roller coaster of emotions with twists and turns, but it's very timely as well. It's socially relevant and it's inspiring. That's exactly the kind of movie that I've always wanted to be a part of."
Black and Blue may not answer all of the questions that we have surrounding these topics--but the heart-stopping thriller certainly continues the conversation. Watch the full interview below.
Black and Blue debuts in theaters October 25, 2019.
Aramide A. Tinubu is a film critic and entertainment editor. As a journalist, her work has been published in EBONY, JET, ESSENCE, Bustle, The Daily Mail, IndieWire and Blavity. She wrote her master’s thesis on Black Girlhood and Parental Loss in Contemporary Black American Cinema. She’s a cinephile, bookworm, blogger and NYU + Columbia University alum. You can find her reviews on Rotten Tomatoes or A Word With Aramide or tweet her @wordwitharamide
Photo: Sony / Screen Gems
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