Yance Ford’s “Power” Documentary Argues That Policing and Politics Are Inextricable

“Strong Island,” the 2017 Oscar-nominated documentary directed by Yance Ford, was an in-depth investigation into the death of Ford’s brother and a grand jury’s subsequent refusal to indict the man who shot him. There’s a flavor of the same sadness and anger that drove this film in Ford’s more recent work, “power” (now in theaters), which methodically builds a case against modern American policing.

Ford’s documentary isn’t the first on this topic, and it won’t be the last. The intersection between policing and the justice system has been a compelling topic for documentary filmmakers for a long time now, and has arisen alongside Investigation reports Which deconstructs assumptions about law enforcement. The results were varied in nature. For example but not limited to:

  • Steven Maying Crime + punishment (2018, dated Holo) police officers follow whistleblowers known as the “NYPD 12”.

  • Peter Nix Power (2017, dated Holo) captured a seemingly never-ending series of crises within the Oakland Police Department.

  • Ava DuVernay 13th (2016, dated Netflix) Explore the roots of the prison industrial complex.

  • Theo Anthony All the light, everywhere (2021, dated Holo) Examine the prevailing role of surveillance, such as police cameras, in maintaining order.

  • and Sierra Pettengill Riotsville, USA“. (2022, dated Holo) took footage of mock cities built to train police to respond to civil unrest in the 1960s and turned them into a stunning history of the militarization of law enforcement.

“Power” is very similar to “13TH” in its structure and approach, relying largely on historical context, archival footage of network news and political speeches, and a host of scholars and experts to explain a range of issues. How were police and politics intertwined? Why have the American police become more like the army? What does the term “law and order” mean in practice? How and why are armed officers involved in everything from patrol to strikebreaking?

But while “13TH” often takes a poetic approach, “Power” blends polemic and character. The goal, as the title suggests, is to underscore how much our contemporary conversations about policing are concerned with power: who is in a position of power, when that power can be used, and when it is given to others. Ford serves as narrator, his voice guiding us through the maze.

This is exciting stuff, even if it’s not particularly new information. As with many documentaries that aim to build a political and social argument, it’s a bit like drinking from a firehose, even if you’re familiar with the history and questions. The important point is not the data, but the spidery nature of the argument; Seemingly disparate things (labor strikes, slave patrols, the removal of Native Americans from their lands) are brought together in “Power,” which becomes pattern recognition. It’s not easy to watch, but it’s a solid introduction to a topic that seems newly relevant every day.

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