Profiled. Directed by Kathleen Foster. New York: Women Make Movies, 2016. 52 minutes.

Always in Season. Directed by Jacqueline Olive. Los Angeles: GOOD DOCS, 2019. 89 minutes.

Reviewed by Leah Christiani

Profiled is a documentary by Kathleen Foster that contextualizes the police killings of Black and Latinx young people in New York City in a larger system of oppression based in racism. This documentary would be ideal for teaching courses on policing, race, and inequality—as it not only focuses on the legal sphere but incorporates a larger discussion of the historical development of race and racism.

In the beginning, Profiled centers New York City, shedding light on police murders that did not receive the broad media coverage, including the police killings of Shantel Davis and Kimani Gray. It features moving interviews with family members and friends, firsthand scenes of funerals, and coverage of protests against the unjust murders. Community members discuss how this experience brought them together—so that now they are fighting for justice as a unit rather than mourning the loss of their children individually. While news reports about police violence often focus on the particulars of the event itself, this documentary broadens our view to emphasize the long term and sweeping effects that this phenomenon has on whole communities.

Profiled then links these individual incidents of violence to institutional racism by digging into the historical development of race and racial hierarchies in the United States. From interviews with experts, viewers learn about the way that race has been constructed and about contemporary racial disparities not only in policing but also related to income and poverty. The film additionally highlights community action and pushback against institutional racism, illuminating the way that people are fighting to counter the oppression that the film exposes.

By framing police violence within a historical overview of the development of race and racism as well as contemporary racial disparities, Profiled is able to situate policing within systems of oppression. This makes the documentary a particularly useful teaching tool—as it enables students to understand incidents that they may hear about in the media within a broader context. This documentary may be paired with readings like Pulled Over: How Police Stops Define Race and Citizenship (Epp, Maynard-Moody, and Haider-Markel 2014) or The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness (Alexander 2010) to teach about structural racism in policing and the criminal justice system.

Always in Season, a documentary directed by Jacqueline Olive, centers on the death of Lennon Lacy, a young Black man found hanging on a swing set near his home in Bladenboro, North Carolina, in 2014. While the police ruled this death a suicide, family and friends called it a lynching. Always in Season tells Lacy’s story by contextualizing it in the long history of lynchings in the United States. As such, it would be ideal for courses centered on anti-Black violence, racism, terrorism, or inequality—and could be paired with books such as Lethal State: A History of the Death Penalty in North Carolina (Kotch 2019) to uncover the links between lynchings and the contemporary use of the death penalty.

Always in Season ensures that viewers do not walk away only with a better understanding of what lynchings were. Instead, it makes it clear that lynchings are still happening in the United States. It profiles a group of people involved in yearly reenactments of a lynching that took place in Monroe, Georgia. Many of the participants noted that they felt it was important to do this as a reminder that this injustice occurred, and that it has never been corrected.

The film oscillates between stories from the Lacy case, historical incidents of lynchings (largely beginning in the early 1900s), and modern reenactments of lynchings. Some parts of this documentary are very hard to watch. There are firsthand descriptions and images of lynchings, including mutilated Black bodies as well as faces of white onlookers, footage of KKK rallies (from the past through today), and realistic, visceral reenactments of lynchings.

The fact that much of this documentary is hard to watch, though, is the precise point that it sets out to make: ignoring our history will not make it go away. If anything, it will only make us more likely to repeat it. The film’s structure, such that it moves between historical and contemporary settings, makes this point explicitly clear. It may also spark connections with contemporary debates, such as those about the way that public schools should teach histories of race and ethnicity. Always in Season, therefore, forces viewers to reconcile with uncomfortable facts and consider how historical narratives shape contemporary injustices.

Works Cited

Alexander, Michelle. 2010. The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness. New York: New Press.

Epp, Charles R., Steven Maynard-Moody, and Donald P. Haider-Markel. 2014. Pulled Over: How Police Stops Define Race and Citizenship. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Kotch, Seth. 2019. Lethal State: A History of the Death Penalty in North Carolina. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press.

Leah Christiani is an associate professor of political science at Hunter College, CUNY. She has written extensively on whites’ racial attitudes, intersectionality, and policing. Her work centers on the way that racism operates at both the structural and individual levels to shape attitudes, behavior, and political outcomes. She has published in outlets such as Political Behavior and the Journal of Race, Ethnicity, and Politics, among others.