A wave of police related shootings has flared up across the United States. Local law enforcement agencies are on the edge following the senseless deaths of fellow officers from Kansas City to Dallas. Where as many in society have grown more restless at the amount of social media videos showing police brutality resulting in the tragic deaths of people from New York to Minnesota.
It's a complicated topic, but which nevertheless has touched all levels of society and garnered all kinds of culprits and causes. When the POTUS addresses police shootings and the Police union chief of a large city lashes out saying 'the POTUS has blood on his hands' you realize what a divisive topic police violence & brutality has become. The topic deserves deep reflection & more than a quick one-sided piece from media outlets blaming the issue on everything from gun control, terrorism to a race war.
Let's walk through many of the most recognized films and TV shows throughout the years that have attempted to present a broader perspective on the complex issue of police violence and brutality.
Dirty Harry focuses on the tactics of Homicide Division Inspector "Dirty" Harry Callahan who's notorious for being extremely violent and ruthless in his methods. Played by a young Clint Eastwood, Dirty Harry went on to become a classic film series that included four sequels, as well as a pop culture icon with phrases like 'Make my day' and 'Do you feel lucky, punk ?'.
Although Dirty Harry didn't receive major award recognition upon its release, it's now considered one of the 100 best action films ever made. At the box office, Dirty Harry was the fourth-highest grossing film of 1971, earning an estimated $36 million for its modest $4 million budget.
Dirty Harry resonated with the public because the 1960's and early 1970's marked one of the highest recorded crime rates in U.S modern history.
Gritty and violent for its time, it was a controversial film due to its portrayal of police brutality. Nevertheless, Dirty Harry struck a chord with those who were frustrated with increasing violent urban crime, as well as outrage from those who saw frequent reports about local police overstepping their authority with entrapment and obstruction of justice tactics.
Hill Street Blues focused on the the lives of the staff of a single police station located on fictional 'Hill Street'. Hill Street Blues became one of the most influential TV shows ever aired , gaining 98 Emmy nominations in its 7 season history, as well as winning 8 Emmys (with 21 nominations) in its debut season. Although an award and critic favorite, Hill Street Blues was one of the lowest-rated drama in television history ever to get a second season (ranking 87th out of 96 shows in the Nielsen ratings).
Hill Street Blues was influenced in part by the 1970's documentary The Police Tapes about the life of patrol officers in the 44th Precinct of the South Bronx, which had the highest crime rate in New York City. The Police Tapes documentary was in itself controversial because of its raw scenes, as well commentary by Bronx Borough Commander Anthony Bouza, who ascribed the crime rate in the 44th Precinct to poverty, the hardening effects of urban violence on idealistic police officers, and believed himself to be the commander of an occupying army, saying "We are manufacturing criminals... we are manufacturing brutality".
Hill Street Blues was groundbreaking as a TV show in its choice to include African-Americans as mainstays in the core ensemble cast and to feature several inter-racial and inter-ethnic cop partnerships. In addition, it was one of the first TV shows to explore the moral conundrums of police corruption, racism, alcoholism, and both interpersonal and institutional forgiveness.
Mississippi Burning was one of the first major depictions of violence associated with the 1960's civil rights movement. Mississippi Burning is loosely based on the Mississippi civil rights workers murders that took place in 1964 which gained national attention and involved the FBI, the POTUS & the mix of local law enforcement with the Ku Klux Klan.
Mississippi Burning received seven nominations at the 61st Oscars, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor and Best Supporting Actress, but only won one Oscar for Best Cinematography.
Mississippi Burning became a lightning-rod of controversy even though it portrayed an all-out war between federal & local authorities, as well as depicted animosities about civil rights between Anglo characters and alliances between Anglo and African-American characters. When Director Spike Lee was asked what he thought about Mississippi Burning, he promptly answered "Hated it. They should have had the guts to have at least one central black character . Stephen Schwerner -- brother of Michael Schwerner who was one of the victims depicted in the film -- stated that Mississippi Burning was a "terribly dishonest and very racist film, that distorted the realities of 1964".
Training Day earned Denzel Washington the Academy Award for Best Actor at the 74th Oscars for his role playing the corrupt Detective Alonzo Harris. Training Day follows two LAPD narcotics officers over a 24-hour period in the gang-ridden neighborhoods of South Central Los Angeles.
Training Day marked a twist in the portrayal of police in films, as it pitted bad cop vs. good cop, as well as police smoking drugs, making alliances with gangs and business dealings with the mafia. Antoine Fuqua the film's director has said Training Day was catalyzed by the real-life Rampart Scandal in the late 1990s that was one of the most widespread cases of police misconduct in U.S. history, responsible for a long list of offenses that included unprovoked shootings, unprovoked beatings, planting of false evidence, frameups, stealing and dealing narcotics, bank robbery, perjury, and the cover up of evidence.
The film also earned Ethan Hawke an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor for his performance as rookie (good) cop, Officer Jake Hoyt. Training Day earned $104.9 million in worldwide sales on a $45 million budget, making it a box-office success.
True Detective is one of the more recent critically-acclaimed law-enforcement focused shows. Set as a mini-series type offering -- consistent of eight 1-hour long episodes -- the show is two seasons old and consists of story arcs focusing on complex issues associated with modern law enforcement, like interpersonal relationships, marital troubles, internal investigations, corruption, substance abuse & politics.
Season 1 focuses on a serial-killer investigation undertaken by two detectives played by Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson. The series is set in the backwoods of Louisiana, as it goes through its many twists involving satanic ritual murders, undercover work, gangs, marital affairs and a series of dark personalities.
True Detective season 1 earned the show five Emmy nominations, including Outstanding Drama Series. Harrelson and McConaughey were both nominated for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series, and in addition the show's writer and director got the Emmy nomination for Outstanding Writing for a Drama Series & Outstanding Directing for a Drama Series, respectively.
Season 2 of True Detective switches to an urban setting in Los Angeles, CA where it follows the interweaving stories of law enforcement from three different corporations, as well as corrupt politicians and a local crime boss.
Although season 2 takes places in the non-existent town of Vinci, CA. True Detective season 2 borrows a lot from the real-life town of Vernon, California which was marred by corrpution scandals in 2006 that involved the mayor, his wife & his son.
Though not as critically-acclaimed as season 1, season 2 of True Detective portrays intense situations where law enforcement officers battle to overcome some of the their broken pasts, in a whirlwind plot that pulls them back and forth acting in violent & brutal ways to either favor corrupt politicians or crime bosses.