The new documentary “Power,” which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival, takes an unflinching look at the origins and expansion of policing across American history. Directed by Yance Ford, the film argues that maintaining social order and control has been the driving force behind policing in the U.S. since its inception.
In an interview with TheWrap’s executive editor Adam Chitwood, Ford explained that the idea for the film emerged after watching the 2020 murder of George Floyd and the police crackdowns on subsequent protests. “I looked at all of us, and I said, ‘What are we doing? What is this for? What are police for?’ And that simple question is what blossomed into the film,” Ford said at TheWrap’s Sundance Portrait and Interview Studio presented by NFP.
Through archival footage and interviews with experts, the film traces the roots of modern policing back to slave controls in the South, the military conquest of Native American lands in the West, and suppression of immigrant communities in the North. “I had very little knowledge of police use to suppress not yet white immigrants in Northeastern cities, like the Irish and the Italians, Greeks, people who were considered undesirables,” Ford said.
The documentary also covers more recent events like the 2020 Black Lives Matter protests and their violent suppression by police. Ford said his team made deliberate choices in how to portray graphic scenes like the Floyd video, redirecting focus away from the violence itself and onto complicit inaction by other officers present.
“What I wanted to do in that moment was redirect the audience away from what was happening to George Floyd and toward his accomplice, through inaction, which is Officer Tao,” Ford added. “So that, for me, that scene becomes less about the murder itself and more about the behavior of another police officer [who] helped to enable the murder.”
According to Ford, the film’s argument is that policing has become a threat to American democracy due to its unchecked expansion and militarization. “I think that people need to, not so much wake up, but they need to look around them in a way that’s less about their personal relationship with police and more about the function of police in our society,” Ford said.
By premiering on Netflix Ford hopes “Power” will prompt international audiences to see connections between American-style policing and enforcement tactics in their own countries. He wants viewers to consider police reform alongside broader institutional changes.
“What we hope is that people will take a step back and consider the institution of policing as something that needs to be rebuilt,” Ford said.
Watch the full interview in the embed above.
Netflix will release “Power” later this year.