5: Beyond The Wire: The Racialization of Crime in Film and TV

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Film and TV in contemporary society are important mediums that provide influential entertainment, insights, and values, that seep into society’s consciousness. I remember the rapturous applause that greeted the arrival of the groundbreaking movie Black Panther, which depicted the African nation of Wakanda, a fictitious world occupied by black people. As much as I enjoyed the spectacle of seeing a predominantly black cast, with a wonderful cinematic representation of futuristic black life, I did not jump up and down with glee. For me, the cinematic portrayal of black lives in relation to the criminal justice system has seldom been portrayed accurately, sensitively, or with any great depth. Ta-nehisi Coates is the writer of the comic book series Black Panther, who also wrote a spinoff entitled Black Panther and the Crew, which got cancelled after a few episodes. However, the major success of the film would suggest it was the film industry that benefitted from the black super hero, and one of the originators of the project has been superseded by the Hollywood elite, who have commodified this important literary development, and sold it back to black people. Here, I posit that similar portrayals of black criminality on both film and TV at times undermines the important work of black criminologists and practitioners, who are sidelined while many white academics seize on ‘race’ without considering the authors of those narratives. More importantly, this position, I would argue, significantly enhances the maintenance of inaccurate portrayals of black criminality that fuel ignorance, that seep into the consciousness of a society, where those distorted narratives shape negative perceptions of black involvement and investment in crime.

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