A skinny white kid begs for his life as he stares down the barrel of Black Cop’s gun. Black Cop (this is the only name given for him) has been interrogating and abusing innocent white people for the past couple of weeks. Why? It’s what his father would say is the result of a newfound aggression that comes with feeling disrespected. He’s been a cop for years, but a week ago he would have thought nothing of the fact that the last 14 people he arrested were either black men or women under 25. The system is not what he thought — not now that he’s seen the other end of it. One night he’s jogging while off duty when a white police officer questions and handcuffs him in what, for Black Cop, is just another incident of racial profiling (he’s innocent, of course). The next day when Black Cop puts on his uniform, he looks in the mirror and sees a fraud.
Black Cop is a dark comedy film written and directed by Canadian filmmaker Cory Bowles. It first premiered at the 2017 Vancouver International Film Festival, where it won Best Canadian Feature, and last week, it played at the 16th annual Regent Park Film Festival in Toronto.
Ronnie Rowe Jr. stars as the titular character who decides to get revenge for a string of racial profiling incidents in his community by arresting and questioning white people whenever he can. Rowe gives a stunning performance as Black Cop, darting gracefully from displays of bitter humour to raw rage, intermittently playing the role of introspective monologist.
When Black Cop pulls a white couple over for speeding and makes them get out of the car, he throws them to the ground and makes a pregnant woman cry. Some members of the audience laughed at this scene, while others looked uncomfortable. Perhaps this was Bowles’ intention.
Bowles walks the line between film noir and comedy with remarkable precision. Black Cop is a winding roller coaster that jolts the reader from the very beginning and takes their preconceptions on a wild ride. The film provides commentary about racism within society and the justice system: an officer abuses his badge and arrests innocent people, while making sarcastic remarks and grabbing coffee on his breaks.
It’s impossible to look away during the 90 minutes of well-directed cinematography. The movie’s lighting is characterized by somber grey hues, cut through by the gnarled branches of autumn trees, which adds to the generally dark undertone. Every so often, the film switches to scenes of Black Cop giving monologues in a dark studio, his face lit with the colours of a police siren. One monologue ends with a literal mic drop.
Both the opening and closing scenes put the audience in front of a Black Lives Matter protest, and the final scene showcases a spoken word poem that left the audience speechless. Bowles’ work speaks volumes about the racial injustices faced by black people in society.
The scenes are overlaid with an edgy techno soundtrack, courtesy of Toronto-based composer Dillon Baldassero. These eerie tones amplify the emotion within the film, though the final song is a surprisingly jazzy bop that drives home the satirical nature of the film.
The audience’s point-of-view flips strategically between body cams and dash cams in certain scenes. Bowles also plays with voiceovers in which white radio journalists comment nonchalantly on the rising number of black arrests, sometimes using the term “thugs.”
Black Cop and the other characters, none of whom are named, aren’t fleshed-out in terms of backstory or details, though the movie is as engaging and thought-provoking as ever.
Black Cop echoes grim realities of the world that can’t be ignored any longer. It unapologetically puts the viewer at the heart of racial tension and an identity crisis that threatens to take over the main character. It leaves the audience feeling like the kid looking down the barrel of the gun.
As the credits rolled and the glow of yellow lights washed over the theatre, there was a sense of wonder in the audience. Director Cory Bowles came to sit at the front of the room with moderator Nataleah Hunter-Young, who asked him about the importance of his film. At least two audience members thanked Bowles for making the movie. One audience member asked “Is it a fantasy?” to which Bowles replied no. “It’s a perspective, but it’s also something that could happen. It’s a what if?” he said.