Cops and Robbers

Movie review by
JK Sooja, Common Sense Media
Cops and Robbers Movie Poster Image
Powerful animated short film has violent images, language.
  • PG-13
  • 2020
  • 6 minutes

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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

The central messages are of peace and racial justice. There are also strong themes of activism, resistance, calling out oppression, perseverance through injustice, bearing witness to and expressing of pain, hurt, and disappointment in the ways in which Black people have been and continue to be unfairly policed, vilified, and dehumanized by individuals, groups, political parties, policies, institutions, and general societal attitudes and beliefs that too often contribute to more Black people unjustly targeted, profiled, incarcerated, punished, harmed, assaulted, and/or murdered. This is a moving cry for an answer to how to continue to live and survive in a society that has yet to fully reckon with the constant threats of racial injustice.

Positive Role Models

Writer and performer Timothy Ware-Hill is the only non-animated and non-abstract character in the short film, but his passion, pain, and hope for change and a better future emotionally and powerfully comes through. He calls for a  return to an environment that is safer, more peaceful, and less dangerous for Black people and other marginalized peoples.


Frequent animated images of police brutality, Black bodies being constrained, cuffed, and put in nooses. There are bruised faces, bloody cuts, and images of White police and White adults beating and assaulting Black people. Images of the KKK and white hooded figures terrifying Black kids, roving trucks with White nationalists, White cops shooting at Black children, Black mothers crying over dead kids, representations of the effects of psychological, physical, and emotional violence.


Language includes a few uses of "f--k" and "s--t."

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Cops and Robbers is a short (6-minute) spoken word performance by Timothy Ware-Hill, written after the February 23, 2020 murder of Ahmaud Arbery. Arbery was gunned down after being hunted and chased by three White men. It took the Georgia Bureau of Investigations over two months to charge the killers with felony murder and malice murder charges, amidst others. After Arbery's murder, Ware-Hill posted this poem to social media, and his words quickly garnered attention, praise, and recognition. The short film is a collaboration and effort that involved over 30 different animators and artists from around the globe, over half of which are Black artists. Ware-Hill's spoken word performance is a stirring, emotional, and inspiring reminder of the injustice of not only Arbery's murder, but also of all those who have lost their lives and/or endured physical, psychological, and/or emotional harm at the hands of police and/or legal institutions. Lots of animated images of violence and the threat of violence toward Black people and kids, including police brutality, Black bodies in nooses, constraints, and cuffs, images of the KKK and white hooded figures terrifying Black kids and families, images of bruised faces and bloody cuts, scenes of assault and White men beating Black men, crying mothers over dead children. Strong language includes "f--k" and "s--t."

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What's the story?

In COPS AND ROBBERS, Timothy Ware-Hill steps outside into the streets of his neighborhood to go for a run. Ahmaud Arbery was also out on a run when he was hunted down and murdered by three White men. Quickly, Ware-Hill becomes animated as he continues his jog, complaining, "I want to go back to when we used milkcrates for basketball hoops. When 'hands up don't shoot' was for B-boys blocking jump shots." By the end of his job, animated scenes of police brutality, racial injustice, and various forms of violence recount the ways White power has thrived in police departments across the nation.

Is it any good?

Timothy Ware-Hill has created a moving piece of activism and protest art. Cops and Robbers is a potent reminder that through collaboration, organizing, connecting through social networks, and ground-level activism fantastic and inspiring art can form and prompt further meaningful work, conversation, and art. Each of the 30 different artists and animators that contributed to this short film adds a different and unique style and voice. Some sections are harsh, brutal, and emotional. Others are bright, hopeful, and encouraging. The poem begins softly but quickly ramps up its musical accompaniment, emotive pleas, powerful imagery, and overall passion. Black people and other nonwhite racial groups, not to mention queer identified groups and people, trans people and the trans community, immigrants, and people of poor socioeconomic wealth, continue to have unfair and unjust exchanges, interactions, and relationships with police and other aspects of institutionalized racism.

It's no question that living in this country as a Black person is significantly more dangerous than if you are White, period. The number of constant direct and indirect threats Black people face is astounding, unjust, racist, immoral, harmful, and tragic. And too often these threats end up in Black men getting murdered, shot, hunted, assaulted, blamed, scapegoated, demonized, dehumanized, and unfairly suspected, persecuted, policed, and punished. Ware-Hill's consistent refrains of, "I want to go back when..." immediately work against the too-often-subtle racism and rhetoric of White people often quoted desires to "go back to the good old days."

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how Cops and Robbers depicts racial injustice and the different kinds of violence and threats that Black Americans face daily. Was the overall message effective? What could have helped further drive home its message?

  • Do you think the art and different styles of animation helped the performance of Ware-Hill's poem? In what ways specifically? Was the music effective? Why or why not?

  • What might the film have gained or lost by making it live action instead of animated? What might animation allow the creators to do versus live action?

  • What other imagery, arguments, facts, ideas, or questions would you have liked to have been included in this protest piece?

  • What do you imagine a follow up to this short film might look like? What content might it specifically cover?

Movie details

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