In the upcoming thriller Black and Blue, Naomie Harris (Moonlight, 28 Days Later) plays a New Orleans police officer who finds herself in the wrong place at the wrong time. Harris’ character, Alicia West, not only witnesses her fellow officers commit a murder, but inadvertently captures the crime on her body cam. Unfortunately, the perpetrators know all of this and her life is in danger as they pursue her to silence her and retrieve the body cam footage.
Director Deon Taylor (The Intruder) says of the gritty thriller, “If you are a fan of movies, like Training Day, like Heat, like Sicario; movies that are grounded in authenticity and realness, then this is the movie for you. It is a fun, rapid-paced thriller, that has a very, very important heartbeat and tone."
It’s also a film that, like Taylor’s film released last year, Traffik, tackles some timely subjects. No doubt cop thrillers have always been popular with the public but Black and Blue has a timeliness that many of them don’t necessarily possess. Asked if he felt a higher level of responsibility doing a film focused on the subjects of police corruption and police brutality with a Black police officer at the center, Taylor replied, “Yes, I do. I feel like Jordan Peele is someone who makes some really elevated films that force you to think and I’m doing the exact same thing. I have been around gun violence. I've had gun violence happen to me. I have been pulled over by police wrongfully. I've been stopped and frisked. Coming from the inner cities, the Gary/Chicago area, moving to Northern California, I've experienced it all. One of the biggest things that you have to be as a filmmaker is truthful. No filmmaker should take on any project that they can’t speak to.”
Black and Blue is a film with no easy answers, which Taylor believes also reflects the state of community/law enforcement relations in real life. “So out in the world and in the streets now it’s like this is our stance against cops, but then at the same time, what people are not also seeing a lot is there are some great cops out there really fighting and trying to help the community. This movie really speaks to the question of how do you break the cycle for you know, my son who's five years old now so that five years from now he's not going to scare the cop?”
Taylor believes it’s a film that speaks to the predicament that many Black police officers find themselves. Of the main character he says, “As she's on the force, she begins to realize that things are a little bit off and she realizes that there's a group of bad cops that have done something really bad. Instead of her conforming and just going along the lines of you know, you gotta pick a side, are you black or blue? She's like, 'I'm not either I'm here to protect, to serve the people. I'm both, I'm a good cop'."
For Taylor, it was poignant that the month-long shoot took place in New Orleans, a city with a rich, complicated history with the issue of police corruption. There are the notorious cases of Officer Len Groves ordering a hit on the thirty-something-year-old mom Kim Groves, the Danziger Bridge killings, and murders of Henry Glover and Wendell Allen to name just a few. “In doing our research," Taylor explains, "We had some actual police officers come and say, ‘Hey, man, you know what? This place was crazy after Katrina.’
New Orleans has since then made great strides in improving its police department and relations with the community. “The officers were telling me now the community is back. People are really here to make the community better. The south has always thrived off of hospitality and kindness and taking care of your neighbor and that's what the Naomie Harris character represents in Black and Blue. She's been obviously born and raised here. She’s like, ‘The last thing I'm gonna do is let people come here and destroy this neighborhood.”
The Academy Award-nominated Harris dedicated herself completely to the film. When she signed on, she made Taylor aware that she would be unable to do much of the action scenes or stunts because of her bad back. However, once they started filming, she was so much in character she did them anyway. “By day three. Naomie was so much in character, she began to run and do all of our stunts," said Taylor. The actress paid the price for bringing authenticity to the screen. Taylor recalls, “She would be willing to be in pain in the evenings but she was like, 'I have to do this. I have to deliver this performance.' That's one of the many blessings that I had on the movie, being able to work with someone that's not coming to phone in a performance. She wanted to bring something to life that the public should see.”
Tyrese Gibson of Fast and The Furious fame also stars in Black and Blue. Gibson plays as Milo Jackson, who tries to help Harris’ character out of her predicament. Of working with Gibson, Taylor says, “Tyrese was phenomenal. Most recently, I did the film The Intruder and one of the things that I love about me as a filmmaker is I really push for talent to play against type. We did that with Dennis Quaid. We had never seen him as a villain. Tyrese was no different. I looked at him and I said, ‘Man, people have forgotten how incredible he is as an actor! People are like, 'Oh, yeah, I just know him from Fast and Furious, or, you know, Transformers'. When we were casting the movie, I was like, 'Oh, man, I know who should play this and will be authentic in the role.' I told [Gibson], “This is a role where you're not beating up everybody, etc. This is about playing against what you have been for the last ten years.”
If the film has an overall message, it's about people in positions of power or influence having the courage to follow through to the oath they make to serve the public good. Taylor said, “What a great time for a movie right now, for people to just see someone trying to do the right thing, no matter what their badge or what color they're wearing, or what color skin they are."
Black and Blue, set for release October 25, also stars Nafessa Williams, Mike Colter and Beau Knapp.
Photo: Screen Gems