Throughout their careers, actors tend to portray characters that challenge their beliefs and/or have morals that they might not necessarily agree with. To some extent, however, most actors tend to at least attempt to connect with their character. So what happens when the character represents a larger sociopolitical structure, especially from the perspective of a black man?
There’s been a recent discussion on Twitter regarding the intentional framing of police officers in the Black Lives Matter era. Colloquially referred to as “copaganda,” depictions of cops in media (television, film, etc.) are often humanized and, beyond that, glorified in a positive light, despite the real-life issues with national policing, particularly as it pertains to the black community.
According to a police department media study cited in a 2002 study titled Media Power & Information Control: A Study of Police Organizations & Media Relations:
Most citizens have little contact with law enforcement officers and their opinion of the police is often formed by the mass media’s portrayal of our functions. The maintenance of good press relations is therefore a crucial element of public relations. Officers and employees must maintain good rapport with the media and deal with them in a courteous and impartial manner. It must be remembered that the media has a legitimate function in our society and the public trust of the police can be enhanced through proper dealings with the media (#1098-5). The mission . . . is (1) to coordinate the release of accurate and timely information to the news media and the public and (2) to promote the positive image of [the Department].
The goals of [the Department] are to maintain public support . . . by keeping the avenues of communication among the department, news media and citizenry open. The objectives . . . are to utilize the media when attempting to stimulate public interest in departmental programs involving the community [and to] promote a feeling of teamwork between the police and media (#3800). [Officers shall] assume a pro-active approach in contacting the news media with information about the Department that might not otherwise come to their attention, but is newsworthy (#302.3).
And this type of public relations isn’t uncommon—the U.S. Department of Defense also has a department strictly for the depictions of military branches in motion pictures, television shows and music videos.
Naturally, when interviewing Chadwick Boseman and Stephan James for their upcoming film, 21 Bridges, I had to get down to the nitty gritty and ask Boseman what it was like portraying a black cop, given the tensions between the police force and the black community? And Boseman knew what was up; he knew that his answer, specifically to a black outlet, would carry some heavy weight.
“Yeah, of course, I was conflicted,” Boseman confirmed. “There has to be a balance there, I think that’s what’s necessary to play the role. I have people that are close to me, that are part of my family, that are cops. At the same time, I’ve had my run-ins with police officers that have stopped me for no reason at all.”
Boseman also revealed he had just been pulled over by a cop two weeks prior to the junket interview, which took place on Nov. 9. He recalled the police officer ended up recognizing him and admitted the whole experience could’ve been a completely different situation had he not be recognized.
21 Bridges rushes into theaters Friday, Nov. 22.