To assuage America’s unfettered trust in the wisdom and trustworthiness of our leaders, in 1935 two-time Medal of Honor recipient and five star General Smedley Butler published, War Is a Racket. In it, Butler lays bare the motivation for most of our wars—profit. The general makes clear that the price for war is paid by the vast majority of us but the profit is funneled to only a few.
The same can be said about our efforts to fight crime. We all pay a high price for the militarization of our local police departments and the massive and ever growing security industrial complex—but only a few truly benefit.
To maintain this arrangement of wealth redistribution, we’re fed a steady stream of messages that suggest we’re all in grave danger here and abroad and that we must be kept safe by any means necessary. Our defense budget dwarfs the amount spent by the next seven nations combined! While we’ve incarcerated more than were in Stalin’s gulags. Today, an inordinate portion of our tax dollars are spent “keeping us safe”, while less and less is spent “keeping us educated” or “keeping us healthy”. To what end? And how is it that we allow this?
The answer to those questions is complex and won’t be unpeeled in this piece. But an issue that will be touched upon here is role that Hollywood plays in helping to shape the world view of the average American who seems to have an unquenchable thirst for military/police oriented entertainment.
In a piece published in the LA Progressive this week, William Astore posits that Americans are being taught powerful lessons when they watch TV and go to the movies. He suggests that the lessons guide them to place their faith in superheroes, (mostly) men of action, who operate outside the boundaries of rules and laws often deferring to the police and their amazing powers. Another frequent theme is that of the lone officer. This position is the exclusive domain of English-speaking white, cisgendered heterosexual males in the 25-45 age range who show up time and again to save the day.
We know this is the dominant them in the police dramas that fill our airwaves. And it is these themes that help to shape the world view of large swaths of the viewership. And so I finally get to why I am writing this piece. I am writing it to ask something of you—I am asking you to watch a television show.
About ten weeks ago I became acquainted with the work of a dynamic husband/wife team, Reggie Bythewood & Gina Prince-Bythewood. They are the executive producer, producer, and writers of the ten event television film, “Shots Fired”.
Shots Fired is a police drama unlike any other, it airs on Fox TV at 7pm Central and 8pm Eastern/Pacific Time on Wednesdays. For 9 weeks over 3 million people have tuned in to watch a drama unfold involving an issue we’re all too familiar with—police shootings of unarmed men. The producers, writers, and directors have crafted a story that delves into places that network television avoids.
This is an important piece and I am asking our readers to watch tonight for several reason but here are two:
- To drive ratings—this show is the product of a diverse team with many perspectives. Although Hollywood has a reputation for being inclusive and progressive, the truth is that women and minorities struggle to gain a footing on both sides of the camera. We have to support diversity if we are to ever expect a different output.
- To begin to change the American palate—we’ve developed an appetite for a steady diet of tough man/ strong man / super hero-man entertainment that might explain why so many of us readily hand over the reins of our lives to someone who claims to have the power to “make America great again.”
The show is having an impact, perhaps in ways the producers hadn’t anticipated. The Shots Fired team has received many messages from real-life-people who have lost loved ones at the hands of police. Some have suggested that the series be used as a training tool for law enforcement. Several critics list it as an Emmy contender.
An African-American woman is at the helm of Shots Fired: Executive Producer Gina Prince-Bythewood recently said, “When artists and activists work together, change happens”. She and her husband Reggie Bythewood, who directed the final showing, insist upon creating and supporting subject matter that challenges the system, particularly in contemporary settings. In a recent conversation I had with the dynamic duo, they talked about how people shake their heads and say “What a Shame” it is when they discuss injustice 50, 100, or 200 years ago. But they ask, “What about today? What about the urgency of now?”. That is the question posed in Shots Fired.
Gina told me that it is her belief that used responsibly, TV can change the world. If she is right, we all have a duty to use our intention to shape what the networks air. Please do this by joining us tonight at 7pm central / 8pm Eastern/ 8pm Pacific to watch Shots Fired on Fox TV. You can see Gina in this clip being interviewed with Shots Fired star Sanaa Lathan.
If you’re unable to watch when it is airing, please use DVR, On-demand, Hulu or go to Fox On-Line by clicking here.