Power Review | Sound of the Police

by Andrew Parker

A scathing indictment and scholarly examination of the history of policing in America, documentarian Yance Ford’s Power is a wake up call to the world in an era of growing inequality and social revolution. While it’s tonally removed from some of their more personal, gutting efforts (Strong Island, The Color of Care), Power exemplifies Ford’s ability to take a complex issue with deep roots and boil it down to a concise, reasoned, and studious package that can say more in less than ninety minutes than most filmmakers could say with an entire series. Anyone still questioning why marginalized people are growing increasingly angry with the role of policing in America needn’t look further than Power for all of the most pressing and poignant answers.

Many of the antiquated tactics and ethics employed by the first formal police forced ever established in the U.S. – in Boston in 1838 – remain the same today as they did then. Tracing the roots of policing back to militia forces used by settlers to gain control over indigenous population and to keep indentured slaves in their place, a pattern begins to emerge. While so many proponents of enhanced policing will state their ability to keep a populace safe from violent crime, their primary objective to this day remains the protection of property, a focus that largely targets working class and minority populations disproportionately.

Through the use of sometimes hard to watch archival footage (including a curio known as The Police Film, a short from 1971 where actor Ben Gazzara talks about the history of cops), interviews with activists and academics, and an insightful ride-along with a black detective working in the same Minnesota district where George Floyd was killed, Ford looks that the ways colonialism protects capitalism above all other costs and how a state backed monopolization on legalized violence can turn everyday citizens into enemies of the state. Power is politically left leaning, but the points being raised throughout by Ford are important to recognize, especially during our current era of divisiveness and dissent. When minority communities are targeted by the police, few members of the privileged class take much notice, but when those being repeatedly leaned on try to fight back, suddenly those elites get upset and offended.

Power makes a compelling case that most methods of modern policing only serve to further sow the seeds of hierarchical privilege. While Power is academically straightforward in its approach, Ford recognizes that this train of thought and reason is the best way to bring this message to a wider platform, especially for a work made by a trans-filmmaker of colour. Power is a documentary that’s careful not to make any potential missteps while making its points, with Ford understanding that less is more when it comes to outlining actions many would describe as atrocities. Every fact is backed, reinforced, and presented as an invitation to reflect, mourn, and advocate for changes.

Power is the type of film that has the power to change minds and attitudes, or at the very least force some difficult, much needed conversations. It demands engagement and reflection. These dialogues should’ve started with the 1968 release of The Kerner Report, a commissioned study and unlikely bestseller that directly linked inner city violence with the continued unspoken enforcement of institutionalized racism. But back then as is the case today, no one wanted to look at the root cause of the problem. Instead, the report just led to unprecedented funding for the police that continues to grow year over year. It seems like every time America has a chance to move forward and change the system, it refuses to learn from its mistakes. Power is made with the hope that change can happen, but a skeptical, critical eye upon those pulling the strings.

Power is available to stream on Netflix starting Friday, May 17, 2024.

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