Black Lives Matter. At latinamedia.co, we know the media is part of the problem, perpetuating false myths about police, BIPOC communities, and violence. We took a moment to focus on uplifting Black voices and now our co-founders are back, talking about Hollywood’s dangerous obsession with the cop-as-hero narrative and what we’d like to see instead.
CRISTINA: The myths of America are breaking. Those of us in communities of color have known of these fractures for a long time. After all, who’s uninsured? Who was left out of the boom economy? Who do cops kill without fear of facing consequences? So while we’ve known, that doesn’t mean the myth of America as a world power, a place of opportunity, a land of laws hasn’t remained strong. We’ve seen it everywhere and when that narrative is in the water, it can feel like you’re the crazy one for thinking otherwise. The “mainstream” (aka white) culture has been gaslighting us.
NICOLA: The media’s shock and disbelief about this moment is the wrong tone. State violence has been happening in the “USA” since 1776 – this country was founded and built by colonizers and slaveowners. It shouldn’t surprise anyone. We haven’t reckoned with our racist foundation in a meaningful way. America has been using bandaids, when we need surgery. We need big structural changes in our schools, where we work, and in the media we consume.
America has been using bandaids, when we need surgery.
CRISTINA: You know, we started latinamedia.co to push back on the ways Hollywood undermines POC perspectives and lift up the rich, alternative discourse of Brown and Black artists. It seems like we need that work desperately now and I hope one genre we can forever change is the cop show. There are so many of them! And with a few notable exceptions, the general narrative is cop-as-hero and that’s just not what cops actually do.
Think about SVU. I’d love to live in an alternate universe where cops care about sexual assault, don’t perpetuate it themselves, and a fierce, survivor, policewoman is answering the call to justice. That’s just not reality. Reality is the rape kit backlog. Cops sexually harassing civilians with impunity. Survivors not reporting because they have no reason to believe the system will help them, #MeToo or not. SVU is a fun fantasy but perhaps it’s a dangerous one. Does watching it keep us complacent? Do we layer its narrative over reality and figure someone like Olivia Benson is handling the problem of sexual violence (actress Marisha Hargitay is working to end the rape-kit backlog)? These broken systems are all of our problems and as Roxane Gay has been saying, we have to save ourselves.
NICOLA: Police forces were never built to protect BIPOC communities. So even shows that are self-aware, hilarious, and prioritize representation like Brooklyn 99 have a major blindspot. We can no longer laugh at Jake Peralta, without seeing the harm that police have done to communities and continue to do. And as much as I love seeing fierce Latinx leads like Rosa and Amy, they’re representation on TV is not worth perpetuating the harmful narrative that NYC cops are not just funny donut eating caricatures.
Police have been basically ordered to protect property and white lives above anything else and there is no fun loving “good” police utopia that can change that.
SVU is a fun fantasy but perhaps it’s a dangerous one. Does watching it keep us complacent?
CRISTINA: The representation thing is the cop shows’ best quality – in many ways, they’ve been important avenues for BIPOC representation. We’re talking ensemble shows with diverse casts. Of course, usually, the lead character is a white guy, but not always! JLo herself had a cop show. Remember Denzel Washington in Training Day? That’s an interesting one because it finally shows a cop as a villain, but, of course, he’s black, corrupting the young, idealistic white guy. Yikes! And that’s the role Denzel gets the Oscar for. We’re talking all sorts of problematic.
This year’s Hightown featured a gay Latina in Monica Raymond’s Jackie Quiñones, but the show 1. keeps reminding us that she’s not a “real” cop (she works in Marine fishing) and 2. Undermines her by contrasting her with a “real,” white cop who we’re supposed to sympathize with but who sucks (he sleeps with ALL his CIs but is nice to their kids, so I guess we’re supposed to root for him?!?! Umm no. That “grey” line is called sexual assault).
NICOLA: Color of Change released a detailed study “Normalizing Injustice: The Dangerous Misrepresentations That Define Television’s Scripted Crime Genre,” earlier this year. They really spell out the problem with these shows that even though inclusive are deeply problematic.
“Despite the fact that widespread racial disparities in the U.S. criminal justice system are well-documented and well recognized, scripted television series focused on crime—some of the most popular and influential shows on TV today—do not depict the reality, causes or consequences of these disparities accurately. If that is true, then these series, and perhaps the genre as a whole, may be a driver of pervasive misperceptions and attitudes about safety, crime, punishment, race and gender among the tens of millions of people potentially influenced by sustained exposure to these series.”
This study was released in January this year, before the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Tony McDade by police. We know the power of narratives, especially those that have been told on television. According to Variety, last year more crime shows were among the top 100 most watched than any other genre. Cops and crime are America’s favorite.
Cops and crime are America’s favorite.
CRISTINA: Yes, we watch a lot of these shows and we’re used to seeing cops in a particular way, of watching narratives that show them upholding our society. That’s why it’s so hard to imagine what defunding the police even looks like. We have almost no examples. There’s not exactly a lot of social-worker shows out there. The only thing that comes close is Parks and Rec and I mean sit with that for a moment. Imagine Leslie Knope solving society’s problems rather than Lennie Briscoe. Doesn’t that sound like a better world?
NICOLA: I mean yes! There are so many workplaces that have never gotten their time on screen and are equally exciting/ridiculous. As someone, who’s worked at several nonprofits, let me offer them up as an ideal place for the half-hour comedy. I would love to see Brooklyn 99 magically transform into NYC ‘slatest 501c3 as they battle to see who can be the wokest non-profit in Brooklyn. Or depict fundraiser kerfuffles where the highest donor is accidentally fed a gluten meal. Or a team meeting where they suddenly realize their latest campaign has an inappropriate acronym.
CRISTINA: Yes! Imagine if instead of SVU, we had a domestic violence/sexual assault advocate show. You could still have the crime-of-the-week structure and the office-politics drama. But instead of cops, the heroes would be caseworkers, counselors, and forensic nurses. Grey’s Anatomy did an episode like that, envisioning another narrative and support system around assault. Imagine if that was on every week!
NICOLA: I can’t wait to see how TV rises to the challenge and what emerges after they cancel their crime centric seasons. Do we get a drama about teens working shitty retail jobs? A show about battling boba shops? A reality TV show about celebrity dog walkers? Police shows are just simply unnecessary, kind of like cops themselves.