Written by: Christopher Llewellyn Reed | February 5th, 2024
Power (Yance Ford, 2024) 3½ out of 5 stars*
With his 2017 documentary Strong Island, director Yance Ford announced himself as a filmmaker to watch. Combining the personal and the polemical, that movie featured a brilliant visual aesthetic to match its compelling thesis. As in his debut (and there has been more work since), Ford turns his attention once again—in his latest, Power—to the way our policing systems reinforce societal inequalities. Time and again, he asks, “Who polices the police?” No one, really, but that’s how it was always meant to be.
The movie provides an excellent chronicle of American law enforcement from the 19th century to the present. Ford brings in a plethora of experts, including a police inspector from Minneapolis, to explain how things have been, currently are, and may be in the future. It’s a compelling mix of voices, and this is where Power shines.
Those interviewed include Harvard professor Aaron Bekemeyer, University of Chicago professor Julian Go, Yale University professor Elizabeth Hinton, former St. Louis police officer Redditt Hudson, Georgetown Law professor Christy Lopez, journalist Wesley Lowery, Indiana University professor Micol Seigel, NYU professor Nikhil Pal Singh, Princeton University professor Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, and philosopher George Yancy, among others. Charlie Adams is the active police officer in Minneapolis, who as a Black man on the force has plenty of thoughts on what the police do well and … not. All told, they provide a wealth of opinion and facts, backing up the larger narrative of how we got to today.
And where is that? In a land of over 1 million police officers, where most departments function, as Adams is so fond of repeating, like paramilitary organizations. The might of the police is largely unregulated, with little to no consequences for overreach. Lowery puts it best, time and again: were we to design our police forces from scratch, there is no way we could come up with what we now have, so why do we accept the status quo? Good question.
How did we arrive at this place? Again, it’s in the history that Power excels, with chapters labeled by topics, such as “Property,” “Social Control,” “Counterinsurgency,” and more, to walk us through the evolutionary steps. In addition, Ford explains that the 19th-century origins of the police emerged from the desire to dominate the following populations: African Americans, Native Americans, and the working class. Over time, however, even those who initially felt the benefits of such discrimination have also been constrained. We all suffer, even if some do much more than others, in systems of intolerance.
Where the film does less well is in Ford’s own voiceover narration, so effective in Strong Island and so unnecessary here. The movie does not need another layer of explanatory text, nor do we need the injunction at the start about how the movie’s themes should be viewed through a lens of curiosity or suspicion. It’s all on the screen. Allow the convincing talking heads to do the work, and let Power speak for itself.
[Power just premiered at the 2024 Sundance Film Festival.]
*Starting in 2024, all Film Festival Today reviews will now be rated out of 5 stars, rather than the previous 4-star system.