Celebrities including Michael B. Jordan, Sophia Dawson, Michael K. Williams and Danny Glover appear in “Against The Wall,” a new police brutality PSA from Sankofa, the social justice nonprofit founded by Harry Belafonte. They all give powerful performances despite not uttering a single word of dialogue.
The PSA, directed by industry vets Gerard Bush and Christopher Renz of Miami-based creative collaborative Bush|Renz, opens with solemn music and a police call, followed by a voice offscreen (Belafonte’s, unless we’re mistaken) decrying the numbers of unarmed black men killed by policer officers throughout the country.
That’s followed by a piece of audio that many may find familiar: George Zimmerman‘s 9-11 call describing 17-year-old Trayvon Martin as “a real suspicious guy” who is “up to no good…on drugs or something.” Accompanying the clip is Williams standing against a wall, in a stance reminiscent of one someone would be told to assume while awaiting arrest. As the spot progresses, more actors and actresses against the wall are accompanied by audio documenting instances of young black men killed by law enforcement.
Before the end of the spot the image flips, suggesting a fate worse than arrest, followed by the line “Black is Not a Weapon,” a striking summation given the preceding few minutes.
“We thought it would prove powerful to place these celebrated people in the same positions that too many within the black community face — being forced against the wall, hands up, on the ground and eventually shot dead by police,” director Gerard Bush explained in a statement. “You can see and feel the same pain, bewilderment, fear, humiliation in the faces of these celebrated people, as you could imagine would have been on the faces of the victims themselves.”
“By using the faces of those we recognize — familiar faces — we look to re-sensitize the community to really see the problem,” Belafonte added. “We are shining a light and calling out to all to take a look, listen and feel within your heart to take action.”
It may seem like everyone who isn’t willfully ignorant about the issue is already aware of the police brutality problem in the country, and related lack of accountability for law enforcement officers who kill minorities. But, as Belafonte suggests, even those aware of it may become desensitized or fatigued by the problem. The PSA acts then as a reminder about the extent of the issue and the humanity of the victims of police brutality. With a major party presidential candidate calling for unconstitutional stop and frisk procedures to be rolled out nationwide in poor minority communities, it may be a desperately needed one.