Hello, my name is Nina Greenhill and I am very much a white, female Australian.
Due to my German heritage, I have been subjected to a few Nazi jokes, and due to being female I have also lived in justified fear of walking alone at night. I do not have first-hand experience with the horrible circumstances African-Americans face. I do have experience with microaggressions of ethnicity and being a woman. I am doing my best to be an informed ally and I may get it wrong at times, but I am doing my best to learn and to improve.
I am also an avid Brooklyn 99 (B99) fan. This is not a surprise to my nearest and dearest who also know that my favourite Christmas flicks are Die Hard and Lethal Weapon, both movies that feature cops.
In the larger TV world, there is definitely a surplus of law enforcement-based shows, especially coming out of the US. Brooklyn 99 is no exception to this.
I will admit, when the masses of protests were happening across the world for the Black Lives Matter movement, I did have a long and hard think about whether it was okay for me to watch B99 when there was massive evidence against the effectiveness and the fairness of the police in regards to POC. Statistics and protest images filled my head and an incredible guilt ran through me because I was supporting a show that casts cops in a humorous light.
Then I stopped and thought about what actually makes up the episodes of B99.
A gay, African-American captain and his African-American lieutenant wrangle a team of detectives (and a sergeant) that consists of two Latinx women, four white males and Gina. When both Stephanie Beatriz and Melissa Fumero were cast in the show, they commented that this was an unprecedented situation, as the typical response to two Latinx auditioning for a show was that only one would get cast. The issue of diversity in the cast was brought up when Canada began producing their version of B99 and the cast was all white. Diversity is a very visible thing in the original B99.
Brooklyn 99 also most definitely does not shy away from the topics that need discussion:
In Season 4, Episode 2, "Coral Palms Pt.2", the show highlights the issue of gun control in America. In Season 4, Episode 16, "Moo Moo", Terry is subjected to racial profiling and police brutality when he goes looking for his daughters’ lost toy in his neighbourhood. He files a report on the unapologetic offending officer and is cost a promotion. In Season 5, Episode 10, "Game Night", Rosa reveals her bisexuality to her parents and is comforted by her friends when the support from her parents is sorely lacking. In Season 6, Episode 8, "He said, She said", Amy investigates a case of sexual assault and Rosa outlines the very real consequences that women are faced with.
ANY HOLT FLASHBACK displays the racism and the treatment that Holt endured in order to rise through the ranks of the NYPD, and whilst it is posited by the glorious afro Andre Braugher who wears that this occurred in the 1980’s, it is closer to the reality that is exhibited in present day society. But it’s on camera as an attitude that has no place in the present day B99 universe, and that’s very important.
Brooklyn 99 is very much a scripted piece of fiction of an idealized NYPD precinct. It doesn’t pretend to be any different. It is goofy, it is fun, it is very much a comedy with a cast of wacky characters who do not mirror the real-life situation. The core characters do not participate in racial profiling or racism. If we take Charles Boyle as an example, he adopts a Latvian son. Instead of insisting he adapt to the ‘Murican way of life, he goes out of his way to incorporate as much of Latvian life into his as possible. The dedicated search for Captain Latvia takes up an entire episode arc with Jake assisting to find this very important present, and the dedication to maintaining Latvian roots is a recurring point in the show, not just a throwaway in order to tick a box.
Copaganda occurs when shows/films do not display the very real injustices or negative issues of the police force or of life in general, favouring a system in which the show functions as a positive advertisement for law enforcement.
Brooklyn 99 uses hilarity, a diverse and complex cast of characters, and more chutzpah than I can imagine to tackle the tough stuff that most tv shows won’t touch with a ten-foot pole. That, in my opinion, is the genius of comedy – the ability to take something that most people are scared to confront and put it in a form that makes it accessible and easy to understand with the bonus of getting to laugh about it. It doesn’t make the issue okay, or something to discard, but it allows it to start a conversation.
I hope that ‘Moo Moo’ can act as a point of accessibility for those who have no experience with such situations just as ‘He said, She said’ has done for me. My male managers don’t understand how I can deal with half the comments I receive and still be professional. Hospo is a shocking industry at the best of times, but I can say that in my workplace, I have had support.
BLM is the boiling point of a movement which is deeply rooted in unconscious and conscious bias, overt racism and a host of issues which law enforcement has failed to adapt to. B99 shows an NYPD that could exist, not the one that does at current. We need to support the movement, not work against a system so broken that abolishment seems the only way forward.
In the larger picture of law enforcement-based tv shows, Brooklyn 99 is very much an exception and one that is not afraid of confronting issues. In the era of BLM, I do not think B99 is Copaganda. It is a fictionalised and goofy version of what we wish reality could become. It speaks truth. It speaks not only to the BLM movement, but to issues affecting all of us.
Take the Christmas movie, Lethal Weapon, as another exception. A keen-eyed viewer spotted an ‘End Apartheid’ sticker on the fridge of the Murtaugh’s house (literally the only family I want to adopt me) and wrote to the director to complain that it was wrong to advocate against Apartheid. Guess what Lethal Weapon 2 was about? Absolutely destroying Pro-Apartheid, South African smugglers protected by diplomatic immunity. BLM is not a new concept, and it’s not one that is going away. Before BLM, there was Apartheid. Before Apartheid there were the Watts Riots. Before Watts, there were the Jim Crow laws. Before that, slavery and smallpox blankets. This is a massive issue that needs to be dealt with and in an age where family time is now sitting in front of Netflix, Brooklyn 99 presents these very serious topics of racism, diversity, abuse, mental health, gun control and assault in a way that the whole family can discuss.
I understand that fundamentally I have a massive privilege in simply being white in which I am not subjected to the large amount of injustices that occur not just in America but in Australia regarding racial profiling and incarceration rates of POC.
Cop shows depend on who handles their creative process, production and casting. The sad fact is that the majority of cop shows get it wrong. Brooklyn 99 is the exception and I recommend setting your prejudices aside and taking in this TV show in this Brave New BLM world.