For Emmy-nominated producer Shoshana Guy, interrogating mass incarceration and criminal-justice reform is a calling. Under the auspices of BET, her forthcoming documentary does just that.
Charged: The DA vs. Black America explores the way in which the United States criminally charges black and brown people, and the societal factors that tend to drive these people disproportionately into the criminal-justice system. With 1 out of every 4 prisoners in the world being incarcerated in America, the United States is the most incarcerated nation in the world. Yet how did this come to be?
Unarmed black men are being killed at the hands of law enforcement at an alarming rate; thus mass incarceration is often examined from the perspective of racist policing practices. But in Charged, Guy, a senior NBC news producer, challenges her audience to view mass incarceration from a different angle.
“I think that when people think about mass incarceration, they think about the police,” Guy says. “What we’re talking about, in this case, is in terms of what drives the [mass incarceration] numbers is the discretionary power of district attorneys and prosecutors.”
Charged is narrated by Black Thought of the Roots and begins in New Orleans—which was once the most incarcerated city in the most incarcerated state in the nation—and digs deep into the criminal-justice systems in Milwaukee and Baltimore. Some familiar faces in the documentary include Rashad Robinson, executive director of ColorOfChange.org, and district attorney Marilyn Mosby.
“As one of our sources that’s quoted in the piece says, ‘It’s the police that can walk you to the door, but the district attorney or the prosecutor that entrenches you in the system,’” says Guy.
How individuals are charged, and the laws that support this charging, are both factors in the criminal-justice system of which some communities are unaware, or just don’t examine.
Charged: The DA vs. Black America is a part of BET’s “Truth Series,” a documentary series that launched in July 2015 highlighting the black experience in America. Jason Samuels is an associate professor of journalism at NYU and a senior consultant at BET, who oversees and helps to produce the series. "If you look at the documentary landscape, there's a lot of films about black people and their stories, but the time was right for these stories to be told for a black audience, from a black perspective. Unapologetically so," Samuels tells The Root. “We're trying to produce films that matter.”
The documentaries are produced by award-winning independent filmmakers and explore a gamut of salient themes—from Hurricane Katrina to Muhammad Ali, from the O.J. Simpson verdict to the Black Lives Matter movement. With the energy and momentum around social justice, this is an opportune time to release a documentary on mass incarceration.
“Everything has its time and its place, and I think this movement, around mass incarceration, has its time now,” says Guy.
Charged: The DA vs. Black America airs on BET on Nov. 7 at 9 p.m. ET. See the official trailer below.
Felice León is multimedia editor at The Root.