It's exhausting to know that racial profiling and police brutality can be an actual debate. The very word implies that there's some sort of argument to be had to the former, to which I can only reply with a: bullshit. The evidence has been everywhere, and as a black man, I envy the internalized privilege it takes to be able to provide excuses to something not experienced. The endless ways folks of colour have attempted to shed understanding have come in some of the most direct ways, but we're reaching point where the direct approach may not be the answer. This applies most to the film space, where black directors are trying to find new ways to make the messages of racism and discrimination satirically clear; see Get Out.
Canadian director Cory Bowles, also known as Cory from the Trailer Park Boys, wants to be one of the many black directors to do that with his new film, Black Cop. Part political drama and satire; it tackles the issue through the vantage point of a black cop who decides to flip the script to the norm, and unfairly target the everyday white man. During the Toronto Film Festival, I sat down with Cory to talk about this film, and why he felt a direct message like this was necessary.
VICE: I just gotta admit, as a black man, it was a little satisfying seeing this black guy do to these white people the same things black folks have been going through from some white cops for ages. I want to know why you even chose to take that direction.
Cory Bowles: I wanted to say, you see what it's like? Because people just don't understand otherwise. They can be told what it looks like, but they always feel like they know more. Like I don't know how many times we get "explained" when we ourselves are trying to explain something, when we're saying, man, this is unfair, and people go, you know what? If he hadn't done this in the first place, blah blah.
There's a scene in my movie where our black cop goes after a white women who we later find out is pregnant. It's a horrible moment but we deal with these people all the time saying, oh this women was a bad mother for saying something to the police. Not about the police taking her down because she's pregnant. I wanted people to have a taste, here's what it looks like and what drives this film besides the actual officer is literally social media.
A lot of those film conversations that you hear throughout are almost exactly what you'd hear on Twitter, Facebook and the like. People justifying it. So I'm taking that same justification and using it to argue that it's okay for him to do these things. It's also ironic that something like that can come off as absurd. People watching it, they're cringing, and a lot of times you're preaching to the choir, and other times you only hope that they'll say, oh, that's what it's like.
Talk about the moment when he does a 180, from an arrogant cop to one that feels the same way as the protestors. There's a scene when he's stopped in a hoody by two fellow officers, and during the altercation, he never once announces that he's an officer in the scene. Was that shown that way intentionally?
Yeah it was. He starts to announce it. He starts to speak with them but they silence him. And finally, I think it's the moment when they say his name and he see's what can happen just moments before, when he's just like, fuck you guys. It's one of those things where that's the moment when we all say, he could of handled it differently, or he's changing through all the microaggressions and the various things coming in on him, he's just felt like he wasn't going to take this anymore. It's like, you don't need to know who I am. So yeah, it's totally intentional.
I don't know how many times I felt that way myself. With some people you just gotta comply, and everyone always says, you just gotta stop and do what the cop says, and I'm like, you don't know how a cop treats you as opposed to how they treat us, because you've never been stopped by a cop, and for us it's yesterday. That frustration, that anger in that moment he decides to he's just going to be what they want him to be. I think he's defined in that moment with some big risk attached.
I know you grew up in Nova Scotia, what else was brought to the film personally?
Sure. I mean I haven't had very extreme experiences, but I still have, which is funny because I'm so light skinned, which is amazing. But there are times when I have because I look different compared to everyone else. I've called the cops before on something that was going on across my street. I came out to greet them, and I was the one they immediately went to, where they said, get your hands out of your pockets, put your hands up, don't speak. And it was like, that's the reality and you want to throw a punch man, you do. You don't want to say anything. And you're so furious when they get it wrong and still don't care, and don't apologize, they just go, well, you know how it is. You get a lot of examples like that when you're young.
Now I have to challenge you on something, because I'm a journalist after all. Black men are criminalized more than most, and here you have this black cop, who is also a black man, being criminalized in order to get your point across. Did you foresee that this could present a problem with some people?
Yeah, I totally did. And that's that conundrum. Again, that's where he's between a rock and a hard place. This is a guy who is compassionate and wrong when the movie says he fucked up. And yeah, there's always a better way to fight discrimination. I took that stance and I think there will be people who won't understand it, I think there will be people who will ultimately look at him as a bad character. He's certainly not perfect at the beginning of the film, or at the end. But I'm not afraid of it because I know he's not a bad character, he's a good human that's going through trauma. And it's a very real trauma that he's kind of turned his back on a little bit. At the same time, this is a cop who has a warped way of thinking because he talks about arresting black kids, so he could make sure to keep the other white officers away before thing get out of hand. He has to get there first. Maybe he changes as a character, maybe he gets away with it, maybe he doesn't, but I feel like I need to challenge my own feelings on this matter sometimes.
It's not like devil's advocacy, it's because I believe in a lot of that stance. Not the actual physicality but I believe in that conundrum, because you're damned if you do and you're damned if you don't. And they're going to paint you as something. Sure, you can take what you call the high road or you can take the other option, which is also the high road. And in this case, he literally just says, fuck all that, I'm not going to be your n*gger, and I'm going to be your 'man", and I'm going to be real fucking mad and throw it back at you. And in a sense, that's a bit more of a warrior spirit then anything.
And where do you stand, were you rooting for him deep down?
I think it's wrong, but I think his feelings are real. And sometimes, I feel like it's a personified social media I guess. We type and we type, but he just "did" what we thought. We're at a time when people just throw shit right back at you, the second someone is like, oh look at this black person, this one act of violence, to counter 43 of them yesterday. It's kind of like, I get that. I'm not rooting when someone fights back, or when someone unloads or does a horrible thing. I don't root for that. In a way, this is an exploration of a lot of different things, and I took the anger route to sort of personify the argument a little bit. Man, that's a really great question.
Thank you (laughs)
No man, this is what I want people to talk about with this movie. I want them to have inner conflicts because we go through these things, and it's so much easier for other people outside of this. We're constantly on the receiving end of a lot of bullshit and it's so dismissed and it's a conundrum when we speak up about it and when we argue it. The second we say something, we're a hate group and all of a sudden people use that as ammo. Well I dare you to use it.
There's an infinite amount of stories about police brutality out there, yet some people don't seem to take it in. So black directors like yourself are able to shout these truths in unique ways, like in Get Out. What do you think about the future potential for black cinema with these messages?
There's a place for it. It's going to get really, really defensive very fast. Before people really see what we're exploring in this, and they see what we're examining, before it catches on, there'll be the defense of, what if we as white people also made a movie like that? Which to say, there's a lot of movies like that already. It's called movies. I hope the conversation doesn't become trendy though because when it becomes trendy, it'll be for the wrong reasons and it won't be black filmmakers behind it. And that's when we'll see exploitation come back around again. But I do think we're at a time when people are listening to black film makers and they're going to have to listen to it.
It's funny, before it was normal for us to make movies where it had to be a comedy, or had to be a bit of a spiritual message or something. Times are changing. I don't know what it'll look like, but I'm happy about it. Man, I just heard about Spike Lee coming back with the Black Klansman, and I was like, say what?
I just retweeted that before this interview, it looks great. Just the concept of Jordan Peele and Spike Lee coming together.
I know right? It's great. I'm cheering. And people will get mad at that but people do revenge films all the time. It's funny how we'll do movies that will have something dealing with slavery, then you ask, why do we always have to have movies about slavery? Because it's a that happened they'll say. So why do we have to have Westerns? Why do we have to have war movies? This is the thing. Django Unchained is "OK", but if Spike made Django, the exact same movie, there would probably be a different conversation about it.
Your city in this movie is not identifiable in this movie, but you're a Canadian director, how do you feel this film is important to the Canadian idea of racism in Canada?
It's certainly a North American thing. There's carding here, and there was just a study in Halifax where there's an overwhelming amount of traffic stops and pull overs for people of colour. So I hope some people relate to it, and I hope some people understand it. Because as Canadians, we're the same way, when something happens, they just say, it's the race card, or it's this or that. And I don't think they will realize how un-blanketed it is here. It's here. I hope it connects. I did intend to mask Halifax and make it just an any city, because I feel like it's an any city, the same way that nobody has a name in the movie
except the youth that died.
I was thinking, man. This is the guy that's going to kill someone. In that moment, I thought, this is why I'm making this movie.
What's the lasting impression you want folks to come away with?
I want them to come away with something at least. Come away with a new perspective. Maybe they'll give the next person they see a chance. I'll tell you an interesting story.
I was afraid of this movie when I finished it. We were doing the shoot and there were two times when we had to have police officers and the night of the profiling scene, we had a black police officer who was really great. He had been in the community for a long time, he goes to the heavy areas and he's really about going door to door to the people he's arrested before, checking up on him, and it's a fight for him. It's a really a fight for him to maintain that trust and he's that cop that really is in there trying to make a difference, and he's also in there trying to make sure everybody is safe. He's had a lot of experience on the force and he felt really moved watching that profiling scene because he admitted that it happened to him. He's been pulled aside, and there were times when he went home and cried. But he felt that deep down, he was doing the right thing, and he's frustrated and just trying to make sure that he takes care of his own. And I thought it was pretty deep.
Two days later, we had another cop, he was a rookie and he wasn't a black officer, just a young Caucasian dude. He was really interested in getting weaponized, wanted to be SWAT some day because you get a lot of weapons, and was really talking about how quickly he could disarm someone and showing us examples of how easy it is to break someone's leg, or how just the other day he gave someone a pinch and got their hands off the wheel, and he was excited to move into the North End because that's where all the action was, the crime. And I live there, where he's talking about, and I was thinking, man. This is the guy that's going to kill someone. In that moment, I thought, this is why I'm making this movie. Because he was watching our shoot and he's like, you wouldn't wear your belt like that. It's like everything went past him. It was so scary to me, that moment. This is what's going on right now and this is the difference between a guy that was from the community, who is there because he wants to help and then someone from the outside coming because the action is there, and that was a whole other question. I don't know how we deal with this.
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