“Cops and Robbers,” the animated short directed by Arnon Manor and Timothy Ware-Hill, is written and performed by Ware-Hill in response to the murder of Ahmaud Arbery. After the Arbery video surfaced on May 5, Manor was inspired to create an animated version of Ware-Hill’s poem, which resulted in their collaboration.
Timothy Ware-Hill and Arnon Manor say they made this film “for all the Black men, women and children who have been victims of racial profiling, police violence, loss of life and other injustices just for being themselves.”
Over 30 individual artists, students and VFX companies from around the world collaborated to each create a short segment of the poem with their own visual interpretation of the subject matter and individual animation technique. Half the animators on the “Cops and Robbers” are Black animation artists. The short premieres Dec. 28 on Netflix.
Pinkett-Smith spoke with Variety about getting the short to Netflix and why the powerful messaging resonated with her.
Why was it important for you to be a part of “Cops and Robbers?”
As an African American woman, it was one of those pieces that I could feel powerful messaging with such compassion from the perspective of the African American community. It was this explanation with this bleeding heart of what we are experiencing during this particular time.
For me, it was this emotional connection that pierced my heart and soul.
It was also written by a very talented African American male, and then, I realized how many minorities had contributed their talent as animators to the project. It’s important that I flow resources in any way that I can to voices and the talent I feel as though doesn’t always have equal opportunity.
My friend Ramsey Naito is president of Nickelodeon animation and she said, ‘I wish there was something we could do with it at Nickelodeon.’ I told her I wanted to be involved and I was down with it. I had a conversation with Lawrence Bender who is a producer and I wanted to help.
The story is such a powerful one with its messaging.
It had so much vulnerability. A lot of times, you could get this messaging and sometimes it can be militant and have power to it. The way this particular expression that we don’t often see while talking about topics of this kind had so much vulnerability, especially through the lens of a Black man. You do not see that a lot and that for me was important because it humanizes Black men. It also humanizes Black people and marginalized communities.
We can talk about the issues, but if you don’t feel, if you don’t really see and understand that and see that there’s nothing to fear — we are human and we bleed just like you. I found that be a very powerful component.
“Cops and Robbers” didn’t find a home at Nickelodeon. It found a home at Netflix, which is global and will raise this global awareness to Black Lives Matter and police brutality, how did that happen?
We got together and had a conversation with quite a few people at Netflix who had seen the project and absolutely loved it. As a team, we just came together. We said, ‘Look, you know as well as we do that this is a powerful piece. It’s not only powerful, but it’s important. We feel that your platform is the place that this piece needs to be.’ And thank goodness they were in agreement and they took it on. We really felt that Netflix was the best place for the short.
The song “Soon I Will Be Done” is performed in the film by Brittany Howard of Alabama Shakes. Can you talk about having Brittany be a part of this?
Having her amazing voice and contribution solidifies and amplifies the messaging I was talking about before with emotion. It’s like there’s a splitting heart that hammers down any walls around a person’s heart and pride and ignorance. There’s that extra component to help whatever the wall or the block might be that stops somebody from understanding or relating or having compassion around the idea that African American people are dying at the hands of cops. The song and Brittany just added that component to help pierce and get to the deeper compassion of the issue.
Police brutality is nothing new, but it’s more visible now because of cellphones and because of social media helping to share images and video.
The difference now is that we are watching executions on television, which is mind blowing. We are watching young men and young women gunned down on live TV and people are in the streets recording it. We’ve heard about it before and it would get written up, but now you have the visuals that make it real. We get to see it and that’s the difference. You can look at it and see for yourself what’s happening.
What does it mean to be a part of this?
Art is like a ladder and where we can reach a higher understanding of things. One of the reasons I wanted to be a part of this project is because I feel like this particular short provides a ladder. I’m really proud of it and I can’t wait for people to see it.