The Talk, a PBS documentary airing today, explores a familiar conversation for many people of color in America: the talk that parents give their children, in different forms, about how they could be unfairly targeted by police and how to survive such an encounter.
The documentary opens with activist and actress Rosie Perez, rapper Nas, and Black-ish creator Kenya Barris reflecting on how they talk to the children in their lives about these issues.
"I give the talk to my nephew, to my nieces, to any young person in my family. You have to, because that's the reality that we live with, right?" Perez says. "Don't get arrogant, don't get pompous, just be quiet, ask why you're getting arrested, say you have a right to a phone call, a right to a lawyer, and keep your mouth shut."
The two-hour film explores six different stories of police relations with communities of color: from an interview with Samaria Rice, the mother of 12-year-old Tamir Rice, who was gunned down by police in Cleveland, to Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams about his perspective as a black leader and former police officer, and the story of an interracial couple raising a Muslim son with dreams of becoming a police officer.
Sam Pollard, the director and supervising producer of the project, spoke to Fusion about why The Talk is pertinent now and the messages he hopes it gets across.
This conversation has been edited for clarity and length.
How did you hone in on these stories in particular?
We tried to look at these stories from the perspective from covering the whole United States–we didn't want to just focus on things happening in the North, East Coast, West Coast or just the South. We wanted a diversity of stories that looked at how things are happening across America. We also thought it was important that not only do you have African-American stories, you also have stories that look at issues with Latinos, and also we wanted stories that didn't just deal with black men or Latino men but also women. We thought it was important, in terms of getting a balanced perspective, to get some insights from the police in some communities on how they're dealing with this between the communities of color and police.
Communities of color have been subjected to police brutality for a long time—this conversation that parents of color are having with their children isn't necessarily new. Why is it especially a good time to stop and examine this?
I think if we look at what's been going on in the country in the past couple of years, the fact is that there are now cameras everywhere, and people can see these things. We've always known there have been tensions between communities of color and the police and it's reported in newspapers but we never saw it. Now, all of a sudden, with all of these cameras around the country, with body cams that police have, the cams that police have in their cars, it's being documented. For us it was a challenge to say, 'It's here, it's in plain sight.' Let's tackle it, let's talk about it, let's investigate it. And I think this was the most appropriate time to do it.
Where there interviews that surprised you or really stood out to you?
I think for me one of the most interesting interviews that really kind of broke open to me how things can be perceived was the interview we did with the Borough President of Brooklyn, Eric Adams. He is a former police officer. He talked about being a police officer and being a black man and having to deal with other police officers and the things he saw that could be remedied and the things that were wrong from both perspectives. So in terms of how the community can better interact with the police and how the police can interact better with the community. I thought that was a very revealing interview.
I also thought that the young man and his parents–the Muslim couple–the husband an African-American and the wife a Latina, I thought that was a really engaging piece because here's an opportunity for an American audience to see a Muslim couple who are both American, who are raising their son and trying to make sure their son understands who he is as a person of color but also how he can have the dream of wanting to be a police officer. That it shouldn't be something he should be frightened of wanting to be. And that he needs to understand who he is and who the police are and how he could deal with them as he gets older. I thought that was a very revelatory piece.
Do you think that as a whole this documentary is going to be helpful for parents of color, or is it more intended to raise awareness for those who don't have to have these conversations and deal with these issues directly? Where do you think it's more likely to resonate?
I think its helpful to both communities. I think if communities of color watch this, there will be people in their living room saying, 'Yeah, I talked to my son about that, or I talked to my daughter.' There might even be people in communities of color who say, 'I never really had that talk with my son or daughter. Jesus, why not? What was it about who I was and where we lived that made me feel like I didn't have to have that conversation?' I also think that for non-people of color it will be an eye-opener. Because here I am, 66 years old, and I'm still amazed sometimes at how little people know about each other. How little white people know about black people, how little sometimes black people know about white people.
Are you a father yourself? Or do you remember having these conversations when you were growing up?
Well you know I grew up in East Harlem, in the projects. In the '50s and '60s. And my father, who was a janitor, never had this conversation with me. And in all honesty I never had this conversation with my sons—who are both now grown adults, 38 and 30, I never had this conversation with them. Now since I had split from their mother, their mother might have had that conversation. But I never did. I think to be honest with you I think because I no longer lived in Harlem, I lived in Brooklyn, I lived in Westchester County, it never touched me. It never got into my head that they had to worry.