River Runs Red is an intense thriller that gives the parents of people who’ve been killed in police-related shootings an opportunity to get not just justice, but revenge. The movie, which premieres Nov. 9 in select theaters and on demand, focuses on respected Judge Charles Coleman (Taye Diggs), who has dedicated his career to the justice system. However, when his son is shot during a traffic stop gone wrong, Coleman begins to uncover an unchecked pattern of violence with law enforcement in his town. Diggs’ character joins forces with another bereaved father (George Lopez), and the two men take the law into their own hands. River Runs Red shows the common thread of injustice that impacts both black and brown communities, and that’s what makes it powerful.
We are seeing the lives of parents affected by police violence more often in media in recent years. The Hate You Give and the Netflix series Seven Seconds, among others, allow viewers to see how this kind of trauma can destroy families. But rather than staying civil, River Runs Red takes viewers on an emotional rollercoaster ride where these families seek vengeance. And, most importantly, the movie shatters the assumption that police brutality can’t transcend social class.
River Runs Red makes a point of showing an affluent Black-Asian family living a version of the American dream, while also still being affected — in this case, violently — by prejudice. Charles is renowned for his fair judgment, while his wife (Jennifer Tao) is a local officer. Though some might assume that because they are affluent and influential, these parents would not worry about their son being a victim of such an event. But, wealth doesn’t change skin color. On the other end of the spectrum, Javier’s (Lopez) working class Latinx family experiences the same pain when they lose their child.
Class and wealth cannot wipe out the implicit bias that drives these violent altercations. Researchers from the American Psychological Associated noted in a study that law enforcement’s physical descriptions of black male victims of police violence reflect that bias — police have noted in their reports that these victims are larger (and therefore more intimidating) than they actually are. “Our research suggests that these descriptions may reflect stereotypes of black males that do not seem to comport with reality,” John Paul Wilson, PhD, of Montclair State University wrote.
The film underlines that both Charles and Javier’s communities are fighting a similar fight against racism, and the story is no doubt driven by the spate of real instances in which minority victims have been killed by police. In reality, minorities make up about 37.4% of the general population in the U.S. and 46.6% of armed and unarmed victims, but they made up 62.7% of unarmed people killed by police, according to The Guardian. In case after case, officers have faced little to no punishment. And River Runs Red is a fictionalized example of how investigations of police-involved shootings can be tilted in favor of the shooter.
This film is an action-packed shift from how plenty of TV shows and movies are tackling this very timely issue, black-ish, Shots Fired, and Blindspotting among them. While they have all put racially motivated police violence at the center of their stories, Rivers Run Red turns the search for justice into controversial wish fulfillment, by giving these parents the means to avenge their children.