As a reviewer, sometimes, there are films that you’re ask to review that you’re just not sure what to say about.
Not because they’re not good. (These types of films are often very good.) But really it’s just because, while we can write about technical jargon like character development, themes or directorial decisions, sometimes a film feels so personal and honest that causes you to take pause and truly listen to the voice of the filmmakers.
Equal Standard is one of those films.
Produced by Ice-T, Equal Standard is the story of Detective Chris Jones (Tobias Truvillion), a police officer who works hard to preserve justice in his community and help its civilians. When a misunderstanding between himself and two other officers ends up in a fatal shooting, Jones is brought into custody. As word spreads of the incident, local communities are ignited with hurt and anger. Torn apart by racial injustice, gangs and neighbourhood families decide to come together in an effort to send a message to the police force that this will no longer be tolerated. Meanwhile, members of the police force must work to flush out those officers who harbour racist intents before things escalate in the area.
The debut film by Taheim Bryan, Equal Standard is an excellent piece that feels as though it were ripped from the headlines. With a well-written script and solid performances, Bryan clearly understands the complexity of the conversations at hand. As such, he creates a balanced narrative that speaks to the pain of a culture and the need for strength but also recognizes the power of humility. With strength and grace, Truvillion carries each scene he’s in, whether he’s negotiating with local gang leaders, caring for his family or serving the public. In every conversation, Truvillion gives Jones an aura of respect and authority, even when he’s caught in an unjust system.
What makes Standard so unique is that it’s both love letter to the police and call for accountability for those who wear a badge. Coming at a time where protests and racial conversations attempt to bring forth change, films about the corruption inherent to the police force have become more prevalent. Similarly, there is a strength of voice within Standard that absolutely calls for change to a system broken by injustice and prejudice. Despite his innocence, Detective Jones is blamed for the death of his fellow officer as simply due to his skin colour. In this way, Standard shines a light on the evils that are allowed to fester under the guise of protecting the public.
However, at the same time, Standard also points to those who honour the badge itself. Rather than focus entirely on a corrupt system, the film shows that not all of those who work on the Force are broken. (Though it does call out those who refuse to speak up.) Strong characters like Captain Issak, Detective Rullen and many other members of the police force not only stand with Detective Jones but look to prove his innocence. To them, he is celebrated as an equal. (For example, Rullen even makes note of the fact that another officer refuses to refer to Jones by his rank in a sign of disrespect.) For these agents of the shield, there is a responsibility inherent to their roles that must be upheld with courage and humility. These are the men and women that know their role in the community matters and accept that race is a valuable part of who they are as cops.
They are the ones who trust and appreciate one another.
In this way, Standard is also a film about coming together in order to not come apart. Whether it’s the police or people of colour in the community, the Jones’ shooting has a ripple effect throughout the city. As things escalate with Jones’ arrest, the African American community wrestles with how to respond. Angered and hurt by yet another example of injustice, some wish for revenge. Instead, however, with the city teetering on the brink of racial war, the community opts to come together. Gangs begrudgingly call a truce. Neighbours cry out for justice, even when some take it into their own hands. In the midst of their collective pain, there remains a spirit of unity to which the people cling.
There’s an honesty within Standard that is sure to kickstart challenging—but healthy—conversations about race and the nature of justice long after the film ends. With its grounded and gritty take, Bryan has created a story that resonates with a culture that seems to always be looking for answers to an ongoing unjust system. While set in New York, this is a story that could very easily take place anywhere and apply in virtually any city. As a result, it’s this accessibility that makes this Equal Standard definitely above average viewing.
Equal Standard is available on VOD on Tuesday, June 1st, 2021.