Category Archives: Racism + Policing in American Movies

Racism and policing in American Movies: The Hate U Give and If Beale Street Could Talk

Nimen Hao,

let’s start today with a little background.

Racial inequality in the U.S.

According to a Census Bureau Current Population survey, for every $100 in income earned by white families, black families earn only $57.30, and for every $100 of wealth held by white families, black families have only $5.04.

African-American communities suffer entrenched and ongoing disadvantages in education, health, housing, labour, income and criminal justice.  (Krivo and Peterson, 2010).

25 per cent of the people in the world who are incarcerated are incarcerated in the U.S. Yet the U.S has just 5 per cent of the world’s population.

Today the prison population is more than 2 million. The majority of those imprisoned are African Americans, but African Americans are a minority of all Americans.

Criminal courts sentence black defendants more harshly than white defendants. Many black defendants accept a plea (plea guilty) because they cannot afford competent legal representation.

US leads world in fatal police shootings


Fact: In the first 24 days of 2015, police in the US fatally shot more people than police did in England and Wales, combined, over the past 24 years.

Behind the numbers: According to The Counted, the Guardian’s special project to track every police killing this year, there were 59 fatal police shootings in the US for the days between 1 January and 24 January.

According to data collected by the UK advocacy group Inquest, there have been 55 fatal police shootings – total – in England and Wales from 1990 to 2014.

The US population is roughly six times that of England and Wales. According to the World Bank, the US has a per capita intentional homicide rate five times that of the UK.

Police shooting victims disproportionately black

Young black males in recent years were at a far greater risk of being shot dead by police than their white counterparts – 21 times greater i, according to a ProPublica analysis of federally collected data on fatal police shootings.

The 1,217 deadly police shootings from 2010 to 2012 captured in the federal data show that blacks, age 15 to 19, were killed at a rate of 31.17 per million, while just 1.47 per million white males in that age range died at the hands of police.

Who is killing all those black men and boys?

Mostly white officers. But in hundreds of instances, black officers, too. Black officers account for a little more than 10 percent of all fatal police shootings. Of those they kill, though, 78 percent were black.

What were the circumstances surrounding all these fatal encounters?

There were 151 instances in which police noted that teens they had shot dead had been fleeing or resisting arrest at the time of the encounter. 67 percent of those killed in such circumstances were black.

There were many deadly shooting where the circumstances were listed as “undetermined.” 77 percent of those killed in such instances were black.

There were instances where police truly feared for their lives.

Data show that police reported that as the cause of their actions in far greater numbers after the 1985 Supreme Court decision that said police could only justify using deadly force if the suspects posed a threat to the officer or others. From 2005 to 2009, “officer under attack” was cited in 62 percent xxxvii of police killings.

Black Lives Matters

BLM is a protest movement against police brutality, including the unlawful police killing of black people.


Some protesters draw historical parrallels with current murders by police and historical abuses. A famous and typical case was the murder of Emmett Louis Till (July 25, 1941 – August 28, 1955). Emmet was a 14-year-old African American who was lynched in Mississippi in 1955, after being accused of offending a white woman in her family’s grocery store. The brutality of his murder and the fact that his killers were acquitted drew attention to the long history of violent persecution of African Americans in the United States. Till posthumously became an icon of the Civil Rights Movement.[1]

Let’s watch some clips and get straight into some discussions.

The Hate U Give

The film is based on the young adult novel of the same name by Angie Thomas. The author told NPR she was inspired to write The Hate U Give after the fatal shooting of Oscar Grant—a young, African-American man who was killed by a white transit officer in Oakland on New Year’s Day in 2009.

Grant was unarmed when he was shot, and Thomas was struck by the media coverage that focused on Grant’s criminal record rather than the circumstances of his death. “More people were talking about what he had done in his past than the fact that he unjustly lost his life,” Thomas said.


In the film’s story,

Starr Carter, a teenage girl living with her parents and two brothers in the tough (fictional) neighbourhood of Garden Heights.

Her father Maverick is a former gang member turned community leader keen to impress on his children both the importance of black pride and the dangers of being a person of colour in an institutionally racist nation.

Starr is a high-performing student at Williamson Prep, a wealthy, primarily white school. [one of her friends is the blonde girl Hailey, and her boyfriend is xxx].

Hao pengyou. Maya, Starr and Hailey
Chris the boyfriend is a great dancer.

Traumatized after witnessing the fatal shooting of her friend Khalil, Starr blames herself for not being there for Khalil prior to his death.

Starr and Khalil have been friends since childhood
Officer One-Fifteen tells Khalil to wait by the car

As Starr gains the courage to testify at the grand jury hearing and grapples with how being black affects all aspects of her life, she grows more outspoken, refusing to accept the way racism hurts her.

Starr protests against police brutality

Let’s watch some scenes from the movie, pausing for a brief discussion after each of them.

Scene 1: Maverick gives his children “the talk” (to be played in class)

Class discussion one.

What’s “the talk” about?

Why does Maverick need to give it?

Scene 2: Starr and Khalil get stopped by a policeman.

Class discussion two.

Khalil is a drug seller, like Maverick was when he was a young man.

Why does Khalil do it? What do you think about that? What would you do if you were in his shoes?

Why did Maverick do it? Why did he stop? What does he do instead?

Scene 3: Starr’s uncle Carlos (a policeman) explains how police think when stopping black and white suspects.

 Class discussion three.


What do you think of uncle Carlos’s explanation and Starr’s reaction?

Scene 4: Starr and her friend Hailey fall out.

Class discussion four.

Black Lives Matter and the Bend the Knee Campaign: confronting racial inequality and police brutality

Let’s watch a short video giving a little about social context. . What is “bending a knee”? Why are Colin Kaepernick (and many others) doing it?

What are the links between bend the knee and black lives matter?


If Beale Street Could Talk

The film is based on the novel of the same title by the great American writer James Baldwin (1974).


The film tells the story of Tish, a young woman who, with her family’s support, seeks to clear the name of her wrongly charged lover Fonny and prove his innocence before the birth of their child.

Like many young African American men Fonny (aka Alonzo) has been arrested and jailed on a trumped-up charge (of raping a woman), following a run-in with a grudge-bearing white cop.

Tish is pregnant and promises Fonny he’ll be out and back in Harlem before their baby is born.

Sis, Tish, Sharon.
Sis, Joseph, Sharon.

Tish’s family, led by protective matriarch Sharon and down-to-earth Joseph, are accepting and proud. But Fonny’s religious mother responds with hostility and spite, blaming Tish for her son’s supposed fall from grace.

Fonny’s friend Frank sounds a warning as he had to plead guilty to a crime he didn’t commit, to avoid getting a long sentence in jail.

Fonny, Tish and Daniel

Sharon tracks the rape victim Victoria to her native Puerto Rico, and pleads with her to admit that she made a mistake when she identified Fonny as her rapist.

Fonny talking with Tish at the prison

Let’s have have some discussions.

Themes: Love-male/female & family love; family, friend , or community relationships; powerlessness; racism-cultural & legal system; social injustice; religion; community, church, political, identity formation, etc.

1. Which theme is strongest/ most central? Tell us your thoughts about it.

2.. Would you feel powerless if you were in the same situation as Tish? How likely are those events and occurrences depicted in the book likely to happen today?



Please do the Cultural Racism reading. There will be a class quiz on this next week.

Please also watch the first of our movies on American immigrants. We’ll start with The Farewell.