16 Shots

Movie review by
Melissa Camacho, Common Sense Media
16 Shots Movie Poster Image
Sobering docu about racism and corruption in Chicago.
  • NR
  • 2019
  • 82 minutes

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Positive Messages

Systematic corruption in Chicago law enforcement is a major theme, as is racism and police brutality. The importance of community activism is also an important topic. 

Positive Role Models & Representations

Black and White journalists and activists were involved in the successful investigation and prosecution of Laquan McDonald’s murder. Not all police officers are characterized as bad or corrupt, but law enforcement representatives fail to acknowledge police misconduct in this case. 


Police officers claim that Laquan McDonald violently assaulted them. Autopsy descriptions, witness accounts, and video footage reveal how he really died. Post-mortem photographs of bullet wounds all over his body are shown. Images of violent protests in Ferguson, Missouri and other locations are shown, and there are conversations about the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Gardner. 


Profanity includes "f--k."


Local and national media outlets, including Slate, are featured. A Burger King plays an important role in what happened on the night of the shooting.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Law enforcement notes how Laquan McDonald had PCP in his system at the time he was shot as a way of justifying his murder. 

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that 16 Shots examines the unlawful 2014 police shooting of Chicago teenager Laquan McDonald, and the events that transpired as a result. Police misconduct, racism, and political corruption are all themes. Footage of the actual shooting and photographs of bullet holes in McDonald’s body are shown. There's also footage of violent protests, and conversations about other Black men's deaths at the hands of the police. The word "f--k" is sometimes used, and there are conversations about the victim’s use of the drug PCP. 

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What's the story?

16 SHOTS is a documentary that examines the 2014 death of a young black man at the hands of the Chicago police, and the city’s first trial and conviction of a city police officer for murder resulting from an on-duty shooting. On the night of October 20th, 2014, 17-year-old Laquan McDonald was shot in the street 16 times by Officer Jason Van Dyke. Interviews with folks like McDonald’s family attorney Jeff Neslund, journalists like Jamie Kalven, and witnesses like Xavier and Jose Torres reveal how the initial police narratives, which described the shooting as justified, contradicted the evidence of what transpired. Conversations with members of the Chicago P.D., including Garry McCarthy, the Chicago police superintendent at the time of the incident, and former Chicago police union president Dean Angelo, discuss the reasons for shooting McDonald, and justify how the police department handled it.  Also featured is former Cook County state’s prosecutor Anita Alvarez, who failed to indict Van Dyke for murder until after the dash cam recording of the shooting was released to the public thirteen months later. Meanwhile, activists like Chicago Alderman William Calloway and Charlene Carruthers, the national director of Black Youth Project 100, reveal the sentiments of the Black community, and how they came together to pursue justice and reform. Throughout it all, dispatch recordings, news footage, and other archive materials, including the police video showing the victim's murder, is shown. 

Is it any good?

This sobering documentary reveals the details behind the fatal police shooting of a young Black man and how a community rose to challenge police politics, corruption, and racism. Much of the narrative is focused on explaining how the Chicago P.D. -- which has a long history of failing to account for police misconduct (especially as it relates to Black men) -- was forced to answer for what happened to Laquan McDonald. Activists express a sense of achievement about this, but it's tempered by interviews with members of law enforcement, who still argue that the police actions being characterized as racist and corrupt are both justified and necessary. 

16 Shots notes the changes that took place after Van Dyke’s indictment, including the creation of a task force to initiative police reform, the election of Kim Foxx, whose win over Anita Alvarez makes her the first African-American woman in charge of Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office, and Rohm Emanuel’s refusal to run for a third term as mayor. It also points to Jason Van Dyke’s light sentence -- and the backlash from local police -- as examples of how systematic racism and corruption are still being reinforced. Ultimately, there are no happy endings here, but 16 Shots certainly leaves you with a lot to think about. 

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about racism in the United States.16 Shots discusses how pervasive political corruption and systematic racism is in Chicago. Where does this legacy come from? How does the election of new leaders and the retraining the Chicago P.D. challenge this tradition? 

  • There are many stories in the media about Black people dying at the hands of police officers. How can you talk to kids about these events? How do you feel about the police after hearing all of this? 

  • What kinds of things can you do to help fight racial inequality in your own community and beyond? 

Movie details

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For kids who love learning about social justice

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