By Jim Slotek
When we first meet the unnamed protagonist played by Ronnie Rowe in Cory Bowles’ shoe-on-the-other-foot race drama/satire Black Cop, he is standing stoically as cutting invective (and possibly spittle) is hurled at his face.
The event is a Black Lives Matter-style protest over the police shooting of an unarmed Black youth. A furious female activist is calling him a “traitor… wearing a clown suit! Your silence is our violence!”
Despite his stone-face, the cop is not unfeeling. His buried frustrations come out in narration and angry, dream-like spoken-word breaks. “Our people don’t like me because the last 14 people I put in cuffs were black people under the age of 24,” he says. But, knowing how interactions between black kids and white cops can go south (and fed a constant diet of incendiary talk radio in his car), he’s convinced himself that it’s his job to get there first when a call comes out on the radio about a black suspect.
Good intentions and all that. The cop, who we hear joined the force against his father’s wishes, is on shaky self-rationalizing ground. And the rationalizations collapse one night when he himself is “profiled” while out of uniform.
Thus, is set in motion the psycho-drama that is Black Cop’s high concept. To wit: Conflicted cop-of-colour snaps and starts “profiling” white people (the more comfortably middle-class the better) and administering shoe-on-the-other-foot rough justice.
Rowe simmers with enough subtlety that his sudden outbreaks of violence seem to burst from somewhere deep. And the almost absurd unlikeliness of the “white profiling” – stopping a jogging doctor because his grey athletic shell matches that of a grey-shirt-wearing suspect, roughing up a pregnant woman after stopping her high-end SUV for no reason – is disturbing when you stop to think how less unlikely they would be if the victims weren’t white.
The this-wouldn’t-happen-ever aspect of the story is both the strength of Black Cop and kind of a weakness. Director/writer Cory Bowles (who in another incarnation is Cory on Trailer Park Boys) is determined to keep the story self-contained, focused solely on the vigilante cop and his luckless white targets. (The only interloper being a rookie black female cop, played by Sophia Walker, who figures out early what her veteran confidante is up to, but is initially indecisive about it).
In real life, both the doctor and the pregnant woman (whose indignation suggests she’s the kind of person who’d go straight to the top with any grievance) would be at the station with a lawyer, filing a complaint within the hour. Black Cop would be apprehended immediately. And Black Cop’s story would break the internet overnight.
But the very staginess of the movie tends to relieve it of any pretense of hewing to a docudrama-style arc. Separated into chapters whose titles reference black awareness – Brother, Brother, Brother (Marvin Gaye), Zombie No Go Stop (Fela Kuti) - Black Cop is often like a conversation – literally so when the protagonist talks to phantoms (of himself and a hoodie-wearing street kid).
It’s a movie that would have worked as well on stage. Either way, its message is powerful and unsettling.
Black Cop. Written and directed by Cory Bowles. Starring Ronnie Rowe and Sophia Walker. Opens Friday, June 1 in Toronto, Vancouver, Montreal, Calgary, Winnipeg and Halifax.