Relevant but heavy-handed police drama about race, violence.
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A Lot or a Little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that Equal Standard is a drama about a Black detective who, while off duty, is profiled and shot at by a White police officer and then shoots back in self-defense. The story delves into race and racism among law enforcement officials, as well as the widespread distrust and anger in communities of color who don't believe that the police serve and protect them. There's strong language in nearly every scene of the movie, including countless uses of "f--k," "f--king," "motherf----r," "s--t," "bitch," and the "N" word (used by both Black and White characters, with very different meanings). There's also rampant weapons violence, with police officers and civilians shooting and pointing guns at one another. Police officers also shoot and kill unarmed Black men. Families who watch will have lots to discuss, like how law enforcement can become more accountable to the communities they serve and what needs to happen for people to trust police officers.
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What's the Story?
EQUAL STANDARD centers on Black NYPD Detective Chris Jones (Tobias Truvillion), who's married to Sergeant Jackie Jones (Syleena Johnson) and is well respected by colleagues and the folks in his outer-borough beat, which includes a mostly Black neighborhood. Tensions are high because a White police officer shot and killed an unarmed Black man, and Chris makes it clear that he thinks police officers need to be held accountable -- both to the communities they serve and to one another. His colleagues at the station agree that they all need to be more proactive in stamping out bad behavior and blindly defending fellow cops. One evening when he's off duty, Chris and a friend are exiting a bodega when two on-duty White cops approach them and demand to see their IDs in a hostile manner. Chris and his friend both try to explain that Chris is a police detective, but the cop doesn't believe it, and once Chris' service gun is spotted, the White officer shoots at him. Chris returns fire, and the violent incident amplifies tension in the are. Meanwhile, rival gang leaders (including a character played by Ice-T) call a ceasefire in order to focus on stopping cops from shooting more Black men, and a few openly racist White men organize a revenge plot against Chris for shooting a White officer.
Is It Any Good?
Relevant themes and Truvillion's standout performance rescue this drama from preachy dialogue and an oversimplification of the tensions between Black communities and law enforcement. The movie starts off feeling like the pilot of a police TV series: Detective Jones puts on his badge and bids his beautiful daughter and wife farewell, but not before his wife -- a sergeant herself -- tells him to "be safe" and "come back to me." It's obvious from that moment that Jones is headed into dangerous waters. It's to Truvillion's credit that no matter how much sermonizing-like dialogue is said around him, he continues to act in a naturalistic manner. Jones is a conflicted character; he's understanding of and empathetic to how Black civilians perceive law enforcement, as well as critical of fellow cops who abuse their authority to harass the communities they're supposed to protect. Hands down, he's the best part of the movie, which occasionally loses its plot when it switches around to show "all sides" and shifts its focus to other characters and groups.
The themes that director Brendan Kyle Cochrane and writer Taheim Bryan explore in Equal Standard are important ones. They might have better supported those themes by focusing more on characters who aren't racist with a capital R but who still cause harm and struggle with their prejudices, like Detective Kevin McKenzie (Chris Kerson). And by introducing so many threads, the story gets frayed a bit, even though the central storyline is solid. The score, like the screenplay, can be heavy-handed in its sentimental approach, making it obvious what's going to happen at most important turns. Ultimately, the parts of the movie chronicling Jones are the most memorable, and his hurt and confusion at being shot by a fellow officer are well executed. The film is a timely reminder that accountability is necessary for law enforcement officials -- and it invites audiences to discuss concerns about institutional racism, overpolicing of Black neighborhoods, and lack of trust for police officers -- but in the end Equal Standard poses more questions than it answers.
Talk to Your Kids About ...
Families can talk about the violence in Equal Standard. How realistic is it? What techniques do filmmakers use to create realistic violence as opposed to fantasy violence? Which has greater impact?
How do characters show compassion, integrity, and perseverance? Why are these important character strengths?
In what ways does the movie deal with racism and issues related to race? Are lessons learned? If so, how would you describe them? What do you think Detective Jones means when he says that what would fix the problem is "accountability"?
What do you think the path to reconciliation between communities of color and law enforcement looks like? Is it possible?
- In theaters: May 7, 2021
- On DVD or streaming: May 7, 2021
- Cast: Tobias Truvillion, Ice-T, Robert Clohessy
- Director: Brendan Kyle Cochrane
- Studio: Mutiny Pictures
- Genre: Action/Adventure
- Character Strengths: Compassion, Integrity, Perseverance
- Run time: 101 minutes
- MPAA rating: NR
- Last updated: December 2, 2022
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