Netflix's 'Cops And Robbers' Touted As An Early Oscar Contender NPR's Noel King talks to the team associated with Cops and Robbers which combines animation with activism, with themes of childhood innocence and traumatic realities of racial injustice.

Netflix's 'Cops And Robbers' Touted As An Early Oscar Contender

Netflix's 'Cops And Robbers' Touted As An Early Oscar Contender

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NPR's Noel King talks to the team associated with Cops and Robbers which combines animation with activism, with themes of childhood innocence and traumatic realities of racial injustice.

NOEL KING, HOST:

"Cops And Robbers" is an eight-minute animated film on Netflix. In it, a young Black man jogs through a suburban neighborhood. He remembers childhood innocence, and then his thoughts turn to adulthood.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "COPS AND ROBBERS")

TIMOTHY WARE-HILL: (As narrator) I want to go back to when we used milk crates for basketball hoops. When hands up, don't shoot was for when people was blocking my jump shots. Now brown boys blocking cop shots. Instead of hoop dreams, it's now cellblocks. Instead of hoop dreams, it's now grave plots.

(SOUNDBITE OF GUNSHOT, GLASS SHATTERING)

KING: I talked to three people involved in the making of the film - Jada Pinkett Smith, the movie's executive producer; Arnon Manor, the co-director; and Timothy Ware-Hill, who co-directed and narrated the movie. It's based on a poem about his life.

WARE-HILL: I think all children feel safe until they don't (laughter), you know? And that's kind of what it's saying because it's not saying that the issues at hand did not exist during my childhood. I had great support and guidance from both my parents who are still married and together, and they protected me and sheltered me as much as they could. But then at some point I had to have the talk because I was a young Black boy who would hopefully one day grow to be a young Black man. And they knew that I would have to face the world much as they did.

I grew up in Montgomery, Ala., so I received a lot of firsthand stories from my parents about the civil rights movement and also from my grandparents. So there is this innocence that's lost really early for young Black kids when we have to learn our position in this nation in order to protect ourselves. How do we survive and thrive in a place that isn't necessarily structured or supportive in the way to give my life full value? I think of the title of the poem "Cops And Robbers," and most people connect it to the games that I mentioned within the spoken word piece.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "COPS AND ROBBERS")

WARE-HILL: (As narrator) We played red light, green light. Now red light, blue light is my night light.

Or some people take it as if I'm seeing cops and then the Black people are the robbers. But there's a third interpretation that often crosses my mind with the title is that the cops - they are cops and the robbers. They have the power to be both. They have the power to patrol and police and also to take.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "COPS AND ROBBERS")

WARE-HILL: (As narrator) But it's just us they fail to avoid using excessive force with 'cause America condones it.

You put your hand on the wheel so that your hands are clear and they know that you're not reaching for something. You speak slowly and you say, yes, sir or yes, officer. And even with these instructions, we've learned over and over again that sometimes these safety measures don't protect us either. So where's our safe haven?

KING: Timothy, thank you. I want to bring in Jada Pinkett Smith. Jada, thanks for being with us. We appreciate it.

JADA PINKETT SMITH: Oh, thank you for having me.

KING: Jada, you have three children. We heard Timothy talk about that theme of innocence and how one day the real world kind of interrupts your childhood and you figure out what's going on. And not all of it is great. With your three children, did you try to preserve that innocence for them?

PINKETT SMITH: No (laughter). For me personally, I believed I needed my kids to understand the realities of the world. I don't know if we as a Black community have that luxury. Right? And at the same time, I would find ways that I could help preserve an aspect of their innocence, but surely not within the world, you know, because having young Black children, specifically young Black male children, you have to start educating them at an early age. You really do, you know? And so with Jaden, Willow and Trey, we started very early educating them on the realities of what it was to be Black in America.

KING: When you think about white people in particular watching this film, what do you want them to take away from it?

PINKETT SMITH: I'm hoping that they can see or feel, like I did, the despair, feel what it may feel like to always worry about your children when they are not in your home - and for some, having to worry about their children when they are even in the home. It tends to be - in a lot of environments that we live in, it is a constant battle. There's numerous dangerous traps for young Black people, Black people in general. And even affluence doesn't protect (laughter) your skin. It can help. But if you're Black and even come from a community of privilege or a family of privilege, it doesn't guarantee safety from your Blackness.

KING: Jada, thank you.

I want to bring in Arnon Manor, the director of the movie. Arnon, you grew up in England. You are a white man. Is there something that you hope white audiences in particular realize after watching this movie or a movie like this?

ARNON MANOR: That we can hide behind our whiteness, Black brothers and sisters cannot hide behind their Blackness. So you know - and that's something that is a strong message that I think we have to show. I mean, we saw it even with, you know, the storming of the U.S. Capitol and the political fallback on how the police reacted to that being a white supremacist insurrection or protest versus the Black Lives Matter protests, which our short film discusses. So it's those kind of things that I think people need to look at and step aside from their whiteness, for lack of a better term, and see, this is really what happens. You know, if you understand the innocence of childhood, the kind of rollercoaster ride that Timothy talks about in his poem about wanting things to be better and the hope, I think if people understand that emotionality from this, I think that we've done our job.

KING: We've been speaking to the creative team behind the short film "Cops And Robbers" - Arnon Manor, co-director; Jada Pinkett Smith, executive producer; and Timothy Ware-Hill, co-director, narrator and writer. Thank you all for taking the time today. We really appreciate it.

MANOR: Thank you so much.

WARE-HILL: Thank you.

PINKETT SMITH: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF SUBSTANTIAL'S "WISHING WELL (INSTRUMENTAL)")

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