Monsters & Men Film Starts Discussion on Police Brutality
By Darcey Pittman
“YA’LL SHOT HIM!” Manny Ortega yells outside a bodega in Brooklyn, as he uses his cell phone to film an arrest by the New York Police Department (NYPD). Tension quickly escalated between officers and an African-American man as Manny captures the death of the community’s beloved Darius Larson, or “Big D.”
Manny is faced with the difficult decision of sharing the video or keeping it private. After deliberating, Manny posts it, but must face the consequences as police officers arrest him for allegedly giving a gun to a 13-year-old.
Structured in three parts, drama film Monsters and Men centers around Manny (Anthony Ramos) and two other characters as they face death in their community at the hands of law enforcement. Besides Manny’s role as a bystander at the shooting, the film follows black police officer Dennis Williams (John David Washington) navigating his identity in two conflicted communities, and quiet teen baseball star Zyrick (Kelvin Harrison, Jr.) who emerges as an activist.
“It took me a while to come to this idea of the triptych [three-part] structure and think that this idea of perspective was a way to engage with a conversation we need to continue to have, but we feel like we’ve heard so much,” director Reinaldo Marcus Green said.
Premiering earlier in 2018 at the Sundance Film Festival, a special screening event of Monsters and Men was held at New York University’s Cantor Film Center this week with a discussion featuring director Reinaldo Marcus Green on police brutality. Green Skyped into the event, which also included academic experts, a journalist, and an activist.
Green shared insight with the attentive, diverse audience on his inspiration for the film and thoughts on police brutality. What started with a short film and an uncomfortable discussion became a full-length feature on a consequential, heated topic. After Eric Garner died in an NYPD officer’s chokehold on Staten Island in 2014, Green had an intense discussion with a friend who was a white police officer. Green believed Garner should not have been killed while his NYPD friend saw the death as a consequence of Garner resisting arrest. This uncomfortable disagreement became the launchpad for Green’s film exploring the effects such a death can have.
One surprising aspect of the film was its lack of development of Big D’s character as the victim of the police violence. The viewer never learns about his backstory or how his death affects his family. Green chose to focus on the community, not the person killed by the police, because he sees that as what is missing in mainstream media coverage of police shootings.
“The film really tries to talk about the people’s lives who are affected by these videos, not to say that the victim himself is not affected by it, but often times we see that on the news,” Green said. “We see that person, we see their life, and we don’t see the peoples’ lives who are affected by the community that has been ripped apart.”
Green recognizes that each of us lives with an unconscious bias, which he says will take a long time to undo. He sees this film as part of a collective action in talking about the issue of police brutality. The film’s purpose is bringing awareness to the issue and creating a space to explore the complexity of racial bias.
“Growing up black in America, that comes with something, there’s these daily reminders that you’re a black man in America, or a black woman in America,” Green said. “We are constantly reminded in a way that only we can understand.”
Green sees making art as a means to talk about this racial bias and pervasive police brutality. In order to move forward, Green says, communities need to hear the different sides and find ways to meet on common ground. Ultimately, Green hopes it is through this awareness and engagement that the number of deaths from police brutality will decrease in the coming years. To become part of the discussion, see Monsters and Men still showing in select theaters.
See the film’s trailer here