By Stephanie Younger •
Are all people in America served and protected by the law? In the documentary, “Profiled – The Mothers of Murdered Black and Latino Youth,” director Kathleen Foster utilizes the power of art, amplifies the voices of Black and Latin American women and youth, and directs attention to protest and dissent. This film effectively communicates to its audience, Americans, how Black and Latin American women and youth are affected by racial profiling and police brutality at the hands of the New York Police Department (NYPD), and how it galvanizes them into action in the era of the Black Lives Matter movement.
The director, Kathleen Foster, utilizes the power of art to influentially educate Americans about the prevalent issue of police brutality against Black and Latin American youth in the film, “Profiled: The Mothers of Murdered Black and Latino Youth.” At a gallery located at the Elizabeth Foundation for the Arts in New York City, there are portraits of murdered Black and Latin American youth. All of the portraits are drawn by Chinese-American artist and poet Fay Chiang (Foster, 22:09). Kathie Cheng, a coordinator of the Stolen Lives Project states, “As of today, there were 2,104 people killed by police nationally since 2013, May. This year, so far 239 people already, 748 people since Eric Garner was killed. Those are very recent cases that are still very fresh in our minds and how many cases have we heard since? How much more coverage, how much attention is brought to the fact that this is an epidemic” (Foster, 19:10). By citing this art gallery, the director aims to draw the attention of Americans to these children who didn’t get the news coverage they needed after being robbed of their innocence and their lives at such a young age. The viewers watching this film will be inspired to learn more about art and how it pertains to racial politics.
Another strategy Foster uses to convey her message is amplification of youth voices. Furthermore, many children of color across America live in a world where they have to fear for their own lives and their families’ lives because of the conditions of our country and the fact that many people from those communities lose their lives to police brutality at a shocking level (Foster, 20:34). Student Kalika Rodney says to her school at a forum following a protest, “My mom fears for my brother to go outside, and he’s about to be 21 tomorrow, and she’s still scared for him to go outside because of the things that has happened to him in the past just because he has color on his skin” (Foster, 20:34). At a protest after the forum, 16-year-old student Feyisola Oduyebo says to a group composed of students and community activists, “I’m scared for my little brother. I’m scared for everybody’s little brother, because when they go out, they might get shot. I’m scared for my kids in the future. When they go out they are going to get shot. It’s not fair. As a 16-year-old thinking about this, that’s a scary thing. I’m scared for my mother. My mother‘s scared for my little brother. I’m scared and that’s not fair” (Foster, 33:26). These aspects of the film compel people who don’t identify with these struggles to step in someone else’s shoes and to imagine living in a world where they have to fear that their lives will be taken by the police. The fact that the director uplifts the voices of these young people affects Americans who don’t have these lived experiences in a way that makes them realize anyone from any generation is capable of being an asset to making the community a better place for Black and Brown people.
In addition to amplifying political art and the voices of Black and Latin youth, Foster uplifts the voices of Black and Latin women (Foster, 26:07). At a rally in New York City, Anita Livingston, the mother of Kyam Livingston states, “She was begging for help. They did nothing. She’s dead. I had to fight for nine months in order to get the names of the police officers involved with my daughter’s death. Nine months, but I finally got something. We got the names of the officers. My girl is not going to die in vain” (Foster, 26:07). At another rally in New York City, Eric Garner’s mother Gwen Carr states, “All of these unarmed people killed, we want to make sure that this doesn’t happen to another family. We don’t want another mother’s heart broken. Let’s unite. Let’s stand together, because we want justice for all” (Foster, 49:24). The director’s purpose here is to draw Americans’ attention to not only how police violence affects Black and Latin youth, but also the devastating effects it has on their mothers and how it pushes them to take action. Foster amplifies the voices of the mothers of Kyam Livingston and Eric Garner by showing how they go above and beyond to stand up for their children and to combat racial profiling and police brutality.
Not only is Foster’s purpose is to utilize the power of art and protest in the film, and to amplify the voices of Black and Latin women and youth disproportionately affected by this issue, but her purpose is to also communicate another significant message to Americans that protest and dissent can be met with brutality and violence at the hands of the police (Foster, 36:00). The director does this by interacting with people who have these lived experiences. This is manifested through the fact that peaceful protesters had to face the heavily militarized police armed with mace and tear gas, in plight of the murder of 18-year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri (Foster, 36:23). Stephanie Foard, a teacher and an activist stated, “One person was beaten to the point where a metal plate has to be put on his face. Someone else was maced where they couldn’t open their eyes for four hours, and other people sustained injuries as well” (Foster, 36:23). These real narratives effectively have the audience of the film recognize that dissent often comes with criminalization, especially for Black and Brown people. Peaceful protesters faced violence while protesting violence. These facts are capable of infuriating people, who have not dealt with police brutality while rallying against this issue, into action.
Director Kathleen Foster effectively educates her audience on the devastating effects on communities disproportionately affected by state sanctioned violence and murder, by utilizing the power of art, amplifying voices of Black and Latin women and youth, and directing to the criminalization of protest and dissent, in the film, “Profiled – The Mothers of Murdered Black and Latino Youth.” Not only does Foster draw attention to the realities that Black and Brown women and youth face, but she also encourages Americans, who haven’t experienced racial profiling, to come to a realization that being Black or Brown, and even an activist can be met with criminalization and violence. “Profiled” conveys a message to its audience that the lives of Black and Latin youth are not being served and protected by those who are obligated to do so in America.
Profiled. Directed by Kathleen Foster, Women Make Movies, 2016, Kanopy Database, https://jsrcc.kanopy.com/video/profiled-0. Accessed 8 October 2019.
Stephanie Younger is a 17-year-old student activist, organizer and writer who advocates for womanism, diversity in S.T.E.A.M, the abolition of youth prisons and gun violence prevention. She is the founder and editor-in-chief of Black Feminist Collective.