Months before the 2016 presidential election, Alternet writer Adam Johnson used the term “copraganda” to describe any media story that “that uncritically advances a police department’s image or helps undermine reform efforts.” The same label can be applied to the way film and television have carefully sculpted the way we view law enforcement for nearly a century. Rookie cops, hero cops, crooked cops, buddy cops, supernatural cops, even a series devoted to a “Maniac Cop.” Filmmakers like David Ayer have practically built careers out of rehashing the “dirty cop” story in films like “Training Day” and “End of Watch.” Networks have flooded our TV screens for decades with stories like “Dragnet,” “Law & Order,” NYPD Blue,” “C.S.I.,” and enough spin-offs, reboots, and copycats to fill its own streaming channel (please, don’t actually do this). In 2008, Christopher Nolan championed authoritarian ideologies by exploiting post 9/11 anxieties in his comic book adaptation, “The Dark Knight.” Even today, the superhero films that dominate our multiplexes are filled with fascist politics, perpetuating jingoistic military, and police fetishism in films from Marvel and director Michael Bay.

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The last few weeks have seen a massive change in dialogue regarding how we talk about police brutality and the very existence of police themselves. As we come to a crucial turning point in this country and face overdue conversations, it’s important to re-examine how media and entertainment can shape our perspectives. While Hollywood reckons with its role in glorifying police, we decided to look back at twenty-five films that have tackled systemic corruption and police brutality head-on. – Max Roux

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Bad Lieutenant” (1992)
It’s telling that the most loathsome character in the entirety of Abel Ferrara’s filmography also happens to be a police officer. This lieutenant isn’t just bad: he’s despicable, given to smoking crack, shooting heroin, berating his children, placing irresponsible bets on sports games, suffering public meltdowns, and in one excruciating, nearly impossible-to-watch sequence, sexually assaulting two civilian women during a traffic stop. Ferrara has a primal understanding of his lead character’s base, self-destructive tendencies, although he never makes the mistake of asking his audience to identify with his protagonist’s narcotic-accelerated downward spiral. Harvey Keitel, who has played no shortage of cops and tough guys over the course of his career, is utterly fearless as the Lieutenant, offering a master class in vanity-free self-implosion. The antihero of Ferrara’s most infamous film is a mad dog, a foul beast of a man whose soul is corroded and rotten, although the film’s sobering final frames – in which the Lieutenant, against all odds, arrives at his own version of forgiveness – are engineered precisely to challenge all thoughts we previously had about the character. – Nicholas Laskin

“Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans” (2009)
Director Werner Herzog’s loose adaptation of Ferrara’s original film steers the source material into a cinematic realm so deliriously bizarre, he practically invented a new genre of film altogether. Starring our most committed and unhinged living actor, Nicolas Cage at his most committed and unhinged, Herzog weaves a much more sociologically dense, sprawling depiction of corruption than Ferrara’s undeniably brilliant but relentlessly grim source material. Setting the story against the backdrop of a post-Katrina New Orleans, where the predominantly Black city builds itself back up from unfathomable physical and emotional trauma, Cage’s Terrence McDonagh uses his power and supremacy to manipulate, blackmail and further disenfranchise those around him. While it can occasionally be difficult to distinguish between the film’s intentional and unintentional moments of absurdity, it’s a refreshing contrast to the typical brooding police dramas. In Herzog’s film, McDonagh doesn’t pay the price for his crimes, he just fails upwards, ascending a system as broken as he is. – MR

BlackKklansman” (2018)
Some ardent Spike Lee fans have cried foul on “BlackKklansman” for the fact that the 1972-set film spends most of its time toggling between a group of Colorado Springs police and some local KKK extremists without considering the not-insubstantial degree of overlap that has historically existed between law enforcement organizations and white nationalists. While Lee’s film, for better or worse, is certainly more compassionate towards cops than, say, “Do The Right Thing,” “BlackKklansman” is engineered to operate on a more nuanced frequency than some of the director’s other polemics. Lee understands the disturbing historical roots of law enforcement in America, and “BlackKklansman” extends its sympathy towards individual officers without letting them off the hook for giving their lives over to a detrimental militaristic initiative. Lee also hones in on the unabashedly Black identity of John David Washington’s protagonist, plus the Jewish personage of Adam Driver’s Flip Zimmerman, underlining the duo’s respective uneasiness as outsider pawns working from within the system of white supremacy. There is a lot to digest in “BlackKklansman,” but the fact that Lee made one of his most entertaining joints to date and still found time to powerfully skewer police brutality is undoubtedly a feat. – NL

Cop Land” (1997)
James Mangold has graduated from former indie wunderkind to one of today’s most sought-after studio directors, having helmed last year’s rousing “Ford V. Ferrari,” and recently securing the gig of directing the next “Indiana Jones” adventure. “Cop Land,” Mangold’s tough-minded sophomore feature, is a great movie about terrible cops. In “Cop Land,” the law operates like the Mafia: they do what they want, when they want, and if you happen to get in their way, well, sucks for you! Harvey Keitel leads this nefarious pack as an NYPD lieutenant who has decamped to a small New Jersey town with some fellow officers so they can run roughshod over anyone they damn please, including a forlorn local sheriff (Sylvester Stallone), who at least possess something approximating a moral compass. Despite being a fairly traditional director, Mangold is admirably hard on the cop characters of “Cop Land,” exposing them for the villains they are instead of imbuing them with falsely-engineered redeeming qualities. And let’s not forget the cast: any movie that includes Keitel, Stallone, Ray Liotta, Peter Berg, and Michael Rapaport in its ranks deserves inclusion in the Dirty Cop Movie Hall Of Fame. – NL

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Dark Blue” (2002)
There may not be a movie on this list that’s aged better than Ron Shelton’s “Dark Blue,” which follows an out-of-step LAPD sergeant investigating a liquor store robbery in the days leading up to the 1992 L.A. riots. “Dark Blue” understands that police corruption doesn’t begin and end with a few errant, individual officers – in other words, the “few bad apples” argument has never and will never apply to these types of cases. Shelton’s film shines a light on the Los Angeles Police Department at its absolute worst. It’s a film that understands that systemic racism, white supremacy, and the continued targeting of low-income, non-white citizens is something that goes all the way to the top of all police organizations. The film’s script crackles with nasty, quotable dialogue, courtesy of James Ellroy and “Training Day” scribe David Ayer, and the action is structured so that, by the time the riots arrive in the film’s final half-hour, they seem like an entirely justifiable reaction to everything we’ve seen up until that point. For a deeper dive into “Dark Blue,” check out Matthew Monagle’s excellent recent piece for the Playlist here. – NL

READ MORE: ‘Dark Blue’ Does Not Shy Away From The Cruelty & Institutional Racism Of The Police

The Departed” (2006)
Given that Martin Scorsese’s Oscar-winning gangland epic “The Departed” largely unfolds within the corpse-strewn milieu of Boston’s criminal underworld, it says something that the crooks in this movie, by and large, are depicted as a more upstanding bunch than the police who are monitoring their every move and illegal deal. At least the mobsters in “The Departed” have a consistent moral code they adhere to. The cops, by contrast, are painted as conniving and nakedly opportunistic, but none more so than Matt Damon’s two-faced rat Colin Sullivan, who spins a relentless web of treachery that even infamous Beantown tough Whitey Bulger might have found to be a bit much. Of course, Scorsese has always possessed an affinity for those who live outside the law. He understands that most “criminals” are born and bred out of poor circumstances and that they are not always the ravenous predators that many law enforcement agencies have unfairly portrayed them as. “The Departed” is one of Scorsese’s boldest, brassiest entertainments: a cops-and-robbers yarn that provocatively blurs the line separating the two groups. – NL