Black Cop (Ronnie Rowe Jr.) goes by many names, many of which are not pleasant, making his real name not that important. In the community which he serves, Black Cop is viewed as the enemy, a traitor whose uniform is considered implied support for the frequent harassment and murders of black individuals. Amongst his fellow officers he is a brother in arms only as long as he is wearing the uniform. The latter is proven true one night, when out for a jog while cloaked in a hoodie, he is stopped and racially profiled by two police officers.
Allegedly fitting the description of a person of interest, he is treated with hostility and seen as aggressive and uncooperative for merely exacting his rights as a citizen. As one officer states afterwards, the incident could have been diffused sooner had he mentioned that he was “one of them.” Seething from the encounter, and growing increasingly tired of the rhetoric and systemic racism being spouted by members the force and in the media, Black Cop decides to turn the tables and start racially profiling the white members of the community in the exact same fashion his brothers in blue profile people of colour. This sets in motion a dark and disturbing chain of events that will have a city on edge and the once dedicated cop questioning his own sanity.
Set in a city where racial tensions are bubbling thanks to yet another murder of a young black teen by a police officer, Cory Bowles’ Black Cop is a blistering political satire. One that is darkly funny, while making the audience uncomfortable at the same time. Bowles’ constructs Black Cop, the character, in such a way that one cannot simply write him off as a “lone wolf”, a guy who is simply “defending himself” or whatever excuse is commonly used when a person of colour is murdered by a white person without due cause. By having the character take control of the terror, rather than being the victim of it, the film offers scathing commentary on the ramifications of unchecked power. The star-making performance by Ronnie Rowe Jr., which carries the same charisma and intensity that made Tom Hardy a revelation in Bronson, further helps to emphasize this.
Black Cop also does a wonderful job of showing how oblivious many are to their own privilege. Many of the white civilians Black Cop encounters vocally state their rights, expecting him to back down, and frequently disobey a director order. A perfect example is the female who gets out of her car to confront him despite being told to remain in the vehicle while he runs the plates. Using a call-in radio program as the vehicle for the “All Lives Matter” versus “Black Lives Matter” debate, Bowles packs the film with many of the overused talking points that have almost become parody in real-life. However, they take on a whole new level of hypocrisy here. Seeing Black Cop go through the motions with white victims, and then hearing pre-dominantly white callers justify those actions when they are done to black individuals, is unsettling on many levels.
In these moments, Bowles effectively forces the audience to truly look at the system that is designed to serve and protect all of society, but caters to a select portion of it. Skillfully, and uncompromisingly, placing the audiences in the shoes of others, Black Cop is not only one of the year’s hidden gems, but a vital conversation starter.
This review was originally published as part of our TIFF 2017 coverage. Black Cop will be screening across Canada as part of Cineplex’s Special Event on June 1st (9:30pm), 2nd (9:30pm) & 3rd (9:00pm).