Movie Review: Monsters and Men


I had the privilege of attending the premiere of the new feature film, Monsters and Men, at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) on September 6th. Set in Brooklyn, Monsters and Men almost feels like three short films merged together, each following a separate protagonist’s storyline, woven together by a far too common scenario that has shaken us to our core the past few years — the unnecessary fatal shooting of a black man by a police officer.

All three protagonists are African-American. The first is a young dad who witnesses the shooting and captures it on tape, and subsequently experiences the unjust consequences of releasing the tape. The second is a police officer in the same division as the officer who shot the man, put in the position of having to defend his loyalty to his police community to his clearly hurting black community. And finally, the third is a teenager with a promising future with a baseball scholarship, who risks it all by getting involved with protest groups against police brutality, mirroring timely race issues within the NFL. All three storylines lack resolution, an unsettling yet realistic scenario for these characters and those in similar situations.

This thought-provoking film is a quintessential example of how media coupled with impactful storytelling can used to transport the viewer into not just another world, but someone else’s shoes. In Monsters and Men, this was achieved through director Reinaldo Marcus Green’s inclusion of first-person perspectives, and his brilliant script which imparts empathy for all three protagonists’ storylines.

Movies can undoubtedly influence and shape viewers perspectives, but this is particularly true for young audiences, due to their developing minds, worldviews, and morals. This is one reason why movies that perpetuate unhelpful stereotypes are particularly problematic. Therefore, when it comes to race, content creators should strive for responsibly embedded realistic portrayals and counter-stereotypical depictions.

Fictional movies that are inspired by current events, such as Monsters and Men, offer an ideal entrypoint for introducing your teenager to these sensitive topics which are both timely and important. The fictional storyline also removes part of the taboo nature that can prevent people from talking about race relations, and slightly cushions the topic for particularly sensitive young viewers.

As a content creator, imagine a teen and parents co-viewing this film . What a fantastic launching pad for families to discuss the movie’s content and its relation to real-world events. It’s good to make content that is great, but when it’s great and impactful… even better!

Colleen Russo Johnson, PhD; Co-Director, Center for Scholars and Storytellers

For more information on Monsters and Men, which comes out September 28th, see TIFF’s Synopsis:https://www.tiff.net/tiff/monsters-and-men/

Flip the Script: Reducing Unconscious Race Bias

Reducing Racial Bias

You can’t solve a problem unless you talk about.” Beverly Daniel Tatum

Unconscious biases develop our first year of life. These biases affect how we act in ways we may not always understand and recognize. Until we start acknowledging these biases and discussing them without blame, shame OR guilt, they will persist and shape our behavior and culture.

surprising study found that black boys as young as 10 are seen as less innocent than white boys. Race identification, and the pride or shame associated with it, begins as young as 4-5 years of age. Representation affects our biases and also our own self-concepts in positive and negative ways. For example,

  • A study of nearly 400 children found that the more TV white boys watch, the higher their self esteem. The opposite was true for white and black girls and black boys.

In fact, just watching a racist scene on video increases blood pressure, long after the scene is over. Fortunately, storytellers can do something about this:

  1. Show characters that identify discrimination and talk about it openly.

  2. Portray positive role models from a variety of backgrounds.

  3. Showing a narrative that is the opposite of what is expected (for example, black heroes and white villains) has been shown to decrease unconscious bias by 40%.

It’s time to flip the script.

Yalda T. Uhls, Ph.D.