Political Agendas & The Race Card

This is America Frank, everything is racist - Norm

F. Murray Abraham in Color of Justice (1997)

When four black men flee from a crime they end up car jacking Betty Gainer (Lisa Pelikan) when their stolen car runs out of petrol and as they drag her out of her car end up killing her. Arrested by some extreme police and brought to trial Manhattan District Attorney Jim Sullivan (F. Murray Abraham) is determined to get justice for the crime and for Betty's husband Frank (Bruce Davison) despite other lawyers wanting to muscle in on the act to satisfy their own political agendas. But activist Reverend Walton (Gregory Hines) becomes involved in the case and turns something straight forwards into a media show by playing the race card.

"Color of Justice" has good intentions there is no denying that as it sets about dramatizing a situation which we all might be aware of as matters of law are turned in to matters of race and people see a chance to advance their own careers rather than serving the public. But the end result is something which ends up disappointing as to put it simply it is as subtle as a brick, resorting to such forced stereotyping that it is uncomfortable to watch.

Gregory Hines in Color of Justice (1997)

Now what are those good intentions, well these range from the central story which is a case of murder being turned on its head when a media savvy activist turns it into a trial about race. But we also see other aspects from police brutality to a TV reporter being chosen because of the colour of her skin so that the station wouldn't be seen as being racist. All these aspects are familiar in this modern world we live in but feels contrived as it lumps every aspect in to one movie. It is a shame as the points which "Color of Justice" attempts to make are good and could be thought provoking but the way it goes about them lets it down.

Part of the problem is that it doesn't just give us stereotypes to go along with all these aspects of race but gives us super stereotypes from the gangsta teenagers to the racist cops right down to one of the teenagers being a good kid just wanting to get out of the hood and is sorry for messing up. It makes it incredibly forced but so does the way in which it tells us what is going to happen. When the teenagers in a stolen car suddenly say will we have enough petrol it immediately tells us that they are going to end up having car trouble. It just adds to that feeling that it is forcing points across rather than allowing the audience to watch and make judgements for themselves.

As for the acting, well "Color of Justice" has a lot of good actors such as Gregory Hines, Bruce Davidson and F. Murray Abraham but they are given such forced stereotypes that none of them stand an earthly of making them work. This is especially the case of Bruce Davidson who really finds himself on the end of a bum deal when the movie turns Hollywood thriller to deliver an out of place ending.

What this all boils down to is that "Color of Justice" has good intentions and wants to highlight the complexity of the law when the race card is played, cops don't do their job properly and political agendas become involved. But unfortunately in trying to dramatize these situations it forces every single aspect of it to the point that it is a movie which starts to make you groan thanks to the stereotypes and the spoon feeding of information.

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