Color of Change, a nonprofit founded in the wake of Hurricane Katrina and dedicated to social justice advocacy, and the USC Annenberg Norman Lear Center just completed a new study about representation and messaging in police and crime TV shows. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the results backup the revelations from the Washington Post's 2016 investigative series, "Dragnets, Dirty Harrys, and Dying Hard: 100 years of the police in pop culture" — that police department PR machines have long collaborated with Hollywood executive powers-that-be to utilize TV to influence public perceptions of law enforcement.
The report is based a data crunch of 353 episodes from 26 crime-related scripted television shows that aired in the 2017-2018 season. They analyzed the race and gender breakdowns of the writers, showrunners, and consultants involved in the shows, as well as the on-screen representation of criminal justice, persons of interest, and victims. Overall, the study identified 5,400 variable data points across the shows, focusing on such questions:
- Do crime procedurals and other crime-focused series produced in the U.S. accurately depict the reality of the criminal justice system, accurately depict racial disparities (e.g., racially biased treatment by authorities, the disproportionate targeting of people of color communities, disproportionate punishment or other outcomes based on race) and depict reforms and other solutions for correcting racial disparities in the criminal justice system?
- If present, do series portray any specific actions or attitudes of criminal justice professionals as directly resulting in those racial disparities? Do they portray any of the routine practices of the criminal justice system as resulting in racial disparities?
- Do these series promote just and effective behavioral norms—i.e., good standards of behavior—for criminal justice professionals, especially with respect to reducing racism in the system and addressing its harms?
There's a lot to unpack here. While, again, the results shouldn't be too surprising, it's helpful to see them all broken down.
Normalizing Injustice: The Dangerous Misrepresentations That Define Television's Scripted Crime Genre [Colors of Change / USC Annenberg Norman Lear Center]
How Police Censorship Shaped Hollywood [Alyssa Rosenberg /Washington Post]
Image: Poster Boy / Flickr (CC BY 2.0)