Researchers have said that African-American city police officers have rarely been depicted as leading characters in theatrically released films over the first 40 years of the cop film genre and are mostly portrayed as comedic entertainment while white officers are not.
According to a new research project by Sam Houston State University associate professor of criminal justice Howard Henderson and Franklin T. Wilson, from Indiana State University, while the presence of African-American officers has been shown to increase the perceived legitimacy of police departments, the media depictions of African-American officers may play a role in delegitimizing African-American officers, both in the eyes of the general public and the African-American community, in particular.
The study of 112 films revealed that white officer depictions dominated the genre, appearing in the lead or joint leading roles in 89 percent of the films; African-American officers were depicted in 19 percent of the films, while other minorities only appeared in 3 percent of the films.
While the study examined films released after 1971, arguably the start of the modern cop film genre with "Dirty Harry," 95 percent of African-American depictions did not occur until after 1987.
White officers were only teamed with an African-American in 9 percent of the films that depicted a white officer in a leading role. In contrast, of the films that depicted an African-American officer in a leading role, 52 percent depicted the officer with another officer, all but one of which was white.
The study revealed that 52 percent of African-American officer depictions portrayed the officer serving as comedic entertainment. White officer comedic portrayals resulted in only 17 percent, which is reduced to only 3 percent if excluding films where the white officer is teamed with a minority officer or minority civilian.
The study also revealed that while several films touched on the struggle many African-American officers face in maintaining a balance of loyalty to the African-American community and to the police force, only four films directly addressed the issue-"In Too Deep" (1999), "Shaft" (1999), "Training Day" (2001) and "Dirty" (2005).
The study has been published in journal Race and Justice.