- 11/02/17--18:30: Skepticism, optimism from families greets proposed police reform
Documentaries such as 13th, movies such as Beasts of No Nation, TV shows such as Narcos— Netflix is host to some mind-expanding infotainment, with shows that are centred on the voices of those whose stories are being told, their locales, their perspectives, their narratives.
Netflix is perceived as edgy, it appears to get “doing the right thing”; it dumped House of Cards faster than you could say, “Claire for president!” after allegations emerged about creepy Kevin’s sexual misconduct with young actors.
Plus, it didn’t back down from airing Dear White People, despite the outrage of those who deemed it racist for not centering on the feelings of white people.
So far, so good.
Why, then, why does it beam bigoted Bollywood movies into our homes?
Bollywood is not to be confused with Indian cinema — there are marvelous independent films in various languages. Bollywood refers to Hindi films by big studios, with big stars, big bucks, formulaic rom/com song-and-dance.
This genre of cinema also peddles sexist ideas, homophobia, colourism/shadeism and increasingly racism, specifically, anti-Black racism — all delivered as light-hearted fun. Never mind that it has an outsized influence on personal and social decisions such as whom to marry, whom to hire, whom to value, whom to discard.
I was looking for a break recently from bigotry, racism and sexism, the stressful discourse of which informs my work life.
Hoping to relax in the comfort of mind-numbing escapism, I perused Neflix’s “Recently Added” list and clicked on Ready, a 2011 film starring Salman Khan, the bad old boy of Bollywood still playing single young boy roles.
About five minutes in, a song-and-dance sequence called Character Dheela (“loose character”) begins. A light-skinned Indian actress dressed dominatrix style gets body surfed by suited men wearing top hats. A fully clothed Khan gets fawned over by scantily clad white girls.
This is a thing, by the way: white girls as extras in Bollywood films. Here they are, sultry dancers jerking to Indian beats, there they are, milling around in the background of a party scene, placed there just to up the glamour factor.
Fast forward about 15 minutes and the female lead, Asin, makes her first dramatic appearance. She is gorgeous (did I mention light-skinned?), dressed in bridal finery, and she’s running, scared, looking over her shoulder as she is chased by a group of men all cast in a greyish-blue light that made their dreadlocked silhouettes decidedly sinister.
I scan Netflix’s other options and choose Humko Deewana Kar Gaye (“You’ve left me lovestruck”), a 2006 film.
In the first 10 minutes, you see the requisite white party guest smiling vacantly at the Hindi dialogue around her, a dark-skinned supporting female lead — oops, the appropriate term is “dusky,” and a tired old homophobic joke, an innocent encounter that looks like two men making out followed by a stuttering, “It’s not what it looks like,” and the denial, “I’m not, I’m not…”
Then the protagonist, Akshay Kumar, lands in Canada in a big city full of white people. A random white girl shows up in a make-out scene in an elevator. In the course of a contrived love life, there is an old New York-style mugging scene. The muggers? You guessed it. Two Black men and a Black woman, who don’t sound Canadian. Immigrants then. Must be those immigrants.
At this point, my Netflix journey into Bollywood was starting to feel like work. So I started Googling newer films — surely in a digital world, anti-racism conversations travel globally? If they do, movie reviews of newer films reassure me they have bounced off Bollywood.
The sexualized white girl and the Black thug trope represent the toxic result of the subcontinent’s deep-seated colourism transcending racial boundaries. The fetish for light skin transported to a stereotype of loose white girl allows the Indian female to be sexy but not slutty. Using Black men to portray thugs versus the usual practice of employing villains who are dark skinned and even named Kaaliya at times (a play on “Blackie,”) deepens the revulsion for dark skin.
Urban India is in an adolescent phase of a sexual revolution, experimenting with different values to see what fits best. Certainly, its long repressed sexual attitudes can be traced to British colonialism, but the obsession with light skin well predates modern European colonialism.
A few years ago, I wrote a piece pairing visiting Bollywood celebrities with their equivalent Hollywood counterparts. It’s no coincidence that I could not pair any one to a Halle Berry or a Jada Pinkett Smith or even Mindy Kaling. That no actress in Bollywood looks like Mindy Kaling says a lot, and it’s not pleasant.
There is no escape — even in so-called escapist cinema.
Bollywood and its stars will have to weigh their role and responsibilities in promoting these oppressive ideologies for personal gain, whether in film or in ads for skin-lightening creams. Its audiences cover a wide geographical area from the Indian subcontinent to south-east Asia to the Middle East and east Africa.
It impacts us, too; there are a sizeable number of Bollywood-watchers in the country lapping up this brand of entertainment with little outrage.
If Netflix wants to sustainably change how we consume entertainment, it has to be serious about doing it in socially non-damaging ways — and not wait for a PR disaster to force it into doing so.
For starters, it needs to pull the plug on racist Bollywood films.
Shree Paradkar writes about discrimination and identity. You can follow her @shreeparadkar
Netflix Canada needs to pull plug on racist Bollywood films: Paradkar
Sgt. Christopher Heard, accused of groping two inebriated women after offering them rides home in his cruiser from the Entertainment District in separate incidents, turning off his in-car camera both times. Acquitted in criminal court last month but still facing Police Act charges.
Suspended with pay: 18 months and counting.
Constables Leslie Nyznik, Sameera Kara, Joshua Cabero, accused of sexual assault against a parking enforcement officer. Acquitted in criminal court in August. Police Chief Mark Saunders has still not indicated whether they will be charged under the Police Act.
Suspended with pay: 33 months. (A Toronto police spokesperson told the Star on Thursday the officers remain on paid suspension and the internal investigation is “ongoing.”)
Officer James Forcillo, convicted of attempted murder in the shooting death of teenager Sammy Yatim, verdict under appeal.
Suspended with pay: 35 months.
Suspended without pay upon conviction and sentencing in July, 2016.
Constables Jeffrey Tout, Benjamin Elliott, Michael Taylor and Frank Douglas, criminally charged in January last year with 17 counts of obstruct justice and eight counts of perjury for allegedly planting heroin in a suspect’s car, then lying about it in court. Suspended without pay: 22 months and counting.
Cops in Ontario suspended with pay who earned more than $100,000 in 2016, according to a CBC investigation: At least 15.
We could go on. And on. And on.
This is the only province in Canada where suspended police officers must continue to be paid their full salary until and unless they are sentenced to serve time.
The landscape may change if a massive bill announced Thursday by the Liberals at Queen’s Park, including an overhaul of the Police Services Act, is ever actually passed, without dilution, and quite possibly not even then.
As so much with this government, what’s promised — what’s unveiled with plenty of bells and whistles — turns out to be drastically less than avouched in both essence and detail.
In a draft version of the bill posted online, the section dealing specifically with giving police chiefs authority to suspend officers without pay, would be only narrowly applicable to any of the aforementioned officers — those on-duty when the alleged criminal or discreditable conduct occurred. Nyznik, Kara and Cabero, for example, were off-duty.
“The devil is in the details,” Mike McCormack, head of the Toronto Police Association, told the Star. “I won’t be going out there to beat the drum until I have a better understanding of what this actually means.”
While the conversation was somewhat hypothetical, McCormack suggested that the only cases he could recall of officers who would be “caught” under the no-pay suspension provisions as outlined would be a couple of notorious criminal coppers: Richard Wills, the ex-Toronto officer convicted in 2007 of murdering his mistress, and Darin Cooper, the Toronto detective sentenced to 9 ½ years in 2001 for being part of a gang that robbed drug dealers during a three-month crime spree.
Ontario police chiefs have long advocated for suspensions without pay. It is certainly a matter of particular public revulsion — that single sentence appended to reports about police officers before the court or before a tribunal: “Suspended with pay.”
Yet the specificity of when a police chief can do so renders the provision all but useless, with yet another bureaucratic layer of notice and appeal built in.
The cluelessness of Marie-France Lalonde, community safety and correctional services minister, was evident when asked by reporters at the Romper Room briefing to clarify the unpaid suspension proposal. What is meant by “interim measure under specific circumstances”?
“Ten months ago, I became the minister of community safety. And this was probably the most discussed . . . in trying to find the right balance. Where the officers, the chief and the public would all find a way.
“The chief cannot, by default, choose this function. I want to be very clear that this will be made with the process. So, for instance, a chief of police feels that the officer should be suspended without pay. The chief would have to inform the officer within 60 days. The officer would have two choices: either agree to the suspension or don’t. If the officer chooses not to agree with this decision, then the (new Ontario Policing Complaints Agency) could, as an independent, make the final decision. We have to understand that there would be court proceedings, potentially, and a verdict at the end. So the suspension would have for the time of the duration. If the officer is found not guilty then it would be reimbursed.”
That could take years.
“This is moving forward,” Lalonde insisted. “After the impasse, this would give the chief a measure that they can suspend an officer for serious offences while not on duty. Certainly we want to expedite the process to ensure that the fastest decision is made in those cases.”
Clear as mud.
We should all have such generous and overarching protections from employers. Or not.
In the private realm, termination for just cause is common, although firing a person when charges are laid — prior to a finding of guilt — can be reversed by the courts (even, possibly, by a human rights tribunal). In a decision last year, involving a man charged with two counts of sexual assault, an Ontario Superior Court ruled in favour of the discharged employee, making it clear that “criminal charges alone, for matters outside of employment, cannot constitute just cause.”
Such cases are “fact sensitive,” depending on factors including the seriousness of the charge and the position of trust held by an employee. Radio personality Jian Ghomeshi, for instance, was canned by the CBC after management viewed a graphic video, for conduct deemed a “fundamental breech” of the national broadcaster’s “standard of acceptable conduct,” as stated in an internal memo — and was not reinstated despite acquittal on all criminal charges.
Everyone is presumed innocent until proven otherwise — in a court of law, not the court of public opinion or the court of the workplace.
If anything, police officers should be held to even higher standards of professional conduct, personal morality and behaviour which brings institutions of law enforcement into disrepute.
This omnibus policing and safety bill contains many heartening reform proposals — especially public transparency by the Special Investigations Unit, which has been exasperatingly clandestine about investigations and would, if the bill is passed, be given an expanded mandate, called in whenever an officer fires at a person.
But, except for allegations of serious misconduct or criminal charges — “serious” not defined — cops facing discipline, cops facing trial, would still be whiling away the days or shifted to desk-duty.
According to figures compiled four years ago by the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, on an average day there were 25,208 people behind bars in provincial and territorial jails, a tripling over three decades. Nearly 55 per cent of them were in pretrial custody — legally innocent, awaiting trial or bail.
You’d have to look long and hard to find a cop among them. They’re getting paid to sit at home on their duffs.
Rosie DiManno usually appears Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday.
Policing reform bill may still allow charged cops to keep getting paid: DiManno
For families of people killed by police, forced to confront an unfamiliar and often frustrating police oversight system, reactions to Thursday’s announcement that major changes are coming ranged from optimism to disappointment.
“I think that the government and attorney general’s office really took a good look at what needed to happen, and that they are implementing what they know they can,” said Karyn Greenwood-Graham, whose son, Trevor Graham, was fatally shot by a Waterloo Regional Police Service officer in 2007.
“We are very much credited. I’m feeling very good about it (but) I know there’s always more,” said Greenwood-Graham, who founded the group Affected Families of Police Homicide
Yvonne Alexander, whose brother, Anthony Divers, was shot and killed by a Hamilton police officer last year, said the legislation gives her little comfort, as she saw nothing being proposed in terms of police interactions with people in crisis.
“I don’t see a lot about policing itself being changed,” she said. “If this would have happened last year, all these oversight bodies being changed, my brother would still be dead, it wouldn’t have changed that my brother was shot dead.”
Families have long complained of frustrating, to downright unhelpful, dealings with the Special Investigations Unit. The body, which probes police-involved death, serious injury and allegations of sexual assault is to be renamed the Ontario Special Investigations Unit.
“How is that going to make a difference, if it’s going to be the same people carrying out their jobs?” Heather Thompson said of the name change. Her son, Ian Pryce, was killed by Toronto police in 2013. “Once it stinks, it stinks, no matter what you call it.”
Complaints about the watchdog range from the length of time it takes to complete an SIU investigation, to the low number of criminal charges being laid against officers, and more generally the lack of information provided, not to just to the public but to families themselves.
La Tanya Grant, whose cousin, Jermaine Carby, was shot dead by a Peel police officer on a Brampton street in 2014, said it was “amazing” that the government is giving itself the power under legislation to limit the number of former police officers who can work at police oversight bodies, but said she would like to see no ex-officers on staff at all.
“There’s no reason why we should have police policing each other,” she said. “We won’t get the change we’re expecting any time soon with former police officers . . . . It should only be people from the community.”
Joanne MacIsaac, whose brother, Michael, was shot dead by a Durham police officer in 2013, has little confidence in the government’s promise to enshrine in legislation that the SIU director’s report be shared publicly in cases where no charges have been laid against officers.
The lack of confidence stems from her own experiences challenging the SIU’s version of events leading to Michael’s death. She said her family was outraged at the redacted version of the report into Michael’s case that they received from the SIU this year, following Justice Michael Tulloch’s police oversight review.
“That is a joke, to make people think that the government is listening to us,” she said. “There’s no information provided, it doesn’t help clarify any of the answers of how (the SIU) came up with their decision. It makes it feel like I’m being toyed with again.”
Alexander said she was surprised to learn that the release of the director’s report would include photo and video evidence — subject to privacy concerns — given the fact that she said her freedom of information request to view surveillance footage from the scene of her brother’s death was recently denied by the SIU.
Skepticism, optimism from families greets proposed police reform