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Courtesy of WGA East

The Writers Guild of America East has named “Policing the Police” filmmaker Jelani Cobb as the inaugural winner of its Walter Bernstein Award.

Cobb will be presented with the honor at the 69th annual Writers Guild Awards at New York’s Edison Ballroom on Feb. 19. The award is presented “to honor writers who have demonstrated with creativity, grace and bravery a willingness to confront social injustice in the face of adversity.”

“Policing the Police,” which aired in June as part of the PBS investigative series “Frontline,” explores the complexities involved in reforming the Newark Police Department and its fractured relationship with the community. Cobb embedded with two detectives in the Newark Police Department’s gang unit to witness firsthand how undercover officers operate following a 2014 report from the U.S. Department of Justice that showed Newark’s police had engaged in a pattern of unconstitutional conduct.

Bernstein, who is 97, became a member of the WGA East in 1954. He was among the writers named to Hollywood’s Blacklist in the 1950s and spent the next decade writing under various pseudonyms.

Bernstein received an Oscar nomination and won a WGA Award for 1976’s “The Front,” in which a small-time bookie (Woody Allen) becomes the stand-in for a group of blacklisted writers. His other feature credits include “Fail Safe,” “Kiss the Blood off Your Hands,” “That Kind of Woman,” “The Money Trap,” “Paris Blues,” “Heller in Pink Tights,” “The Betsy,” “The Molly Maguires,” “Yanks,” and “Semi-Tough.”

He also wrote the Emmy-winning “Miss Evers’ Boys” in 1997, which told the true story about how the U.S. government used poor, rural black men as guinea pigs to test the effects of syphilis.

“Through his life and career, Walter Bernstein has epitomized what all serious writers aspire to be, combining exquisite storytelling skills with a clear-eyed, fierce commitment to social justice and freedom of expression, qualities we need more than ever,” said WGA East President Michael Winship.

Cobb is a staff writer for the New Yorker and has reported on police brutality, the Black Lives Matter movement and attempts to dismantle the Voting Rights Act.

“Walter Bernstein is an amazing and inspirational figure and a living testament to the power of art and integrity,” Cobb said. “It is tragic that the lessons of his life regarding art in the face of a hostile political climate remain so relevant today but it reaffirms how significant his example is. I’m beyond humbled to be the first recipient of this award.”

 

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