Dark Justice: Combatting Social Injustice Through Satire

This article was co-authored by Chris Hadley, who writes for the online web series magazine Snobby Robot, and for the film music magazine Film Score Monthly Online. In addition, he is the writer/creator of the cable news satire/parody THE LATE, LATE NEWS.

Institutional racism in America's police departments is not a topic that gets a lot of attention in conventional entertainment venues. That makes the new comedy series DARK JUSTICE all the more interesting and compelling.

Episode 1 of Dark Justice on YouTube

The satirical comedy is now streaming its first season of 6 episodes on its official web site and through various streaming networks including Stream Now TV, Youtube, Funny or Die, and AfroLand TV (for viewers in the U.K. and South Africa).

Produced by Rochester filmmakers Mike Gerbino and Travis Cannan, and with a talented cast of actors from Rochester and Buffalo, New York, DARK JUSTICE stars Che Holloway as Amir Johnson, the first, and only, black cop in an otherwise all-white small town police department. Amir's efforts to serve and protect the community are complicated when his dimwitted partner, Officer Stanton (Tim O'Connor) shoots him during what would have been a routine service call.

As a result of the incident, Amir's already difficult attempts to create change within his department, as well as among his fellow officers, become even more complicated as he finds himself the subject of civil rights activist Reverend Charles X. Maxton's (Jon Cesar) latest campaign for social justice; a campaign that has also attracted the support of a few naïve (and white) young adults.

Combining witty, edgy satire with relevant social commentary, DARK JUSTICE was developed by Gerbino and Cannan in 2014, a year that saw Americans riveted, as well as divided, by the shooting of Michael Brown by a white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, and the ensuing violent confrontations between city residents, activists and law enforcement; an event that further inflamed existing racial tensions between minorities and whites.

For Gerbino and Cannan, finding a balanced approach between the extremes of DARK JUS-TICE's subject matter, and the comedy found in each episode, was always present as they began working on the series. That balance, says Gerbino, is also crucial to DARK JUSTICE's effectiveness, which he feels makes it truly unique from other socially conscious comedies.

I think the show is surprisingly level-headed for how absurd and seemingly controversial it is. I really don't know of any other shows like it, and I think that's because we've attempted to tackle an extremely complex and nuanced issue in a fictional world, where neither complexity nor nuance can exist. It is impossible to watch DARK JUSTICE and get what you were 'expecting'. I don't know what the expectations are upon viewing, but it certainly is nothing like it seems.

As for Holloway, working on a series that combines humor with relevant social perspective has also given him the impetus to take greater chances as he expresses himself through his acting. Nevertheless, Holloway explains, the way he approaches similar experiences in real life con-trasts heavily with the way his character does in DARK JUSTICE. "I feel that I would respond entirely different than Amir Johnson (Holloway's character in DARK JUSTICE) would, in almost all of his racially charged encounters."

Although most web series sitcoms are traditionally structured to be one-off, interchangeable episodes, that wasn't the case with DARK JUSTICE. With each of its episodes following a continuing, serialized storyline, including one that ran longer than most web series comedies (the series' fourth episode, more on that ahead), Gerbino and Cannan had a difficult time trying to build viewers for their series.
"We're still trying to figure out what a web series is, and who watches it. I think one mistake we made with season 1 is that we made the show a slow-burning, serialized story that feels more like traditional television in its pace," explains Gerbino. "That has made it very hard to hit a stride on the internet. Everything is so fast-paced, and the fact that Episode 4 is a six minute episode that doesn't make sense out of context means we can't push episodes individually."

Just when it looked like the show was floundering, DARK JUSTICE would get a major boost from the head honcho of a new, indie-centric streaming service. "The president of Stream Now TV, Ron Valderrama, found the show on a Reddit page, and asked about hosting it on his site," Gerbino says. "Stream Now TV might be the reason the last four episodes even exist."

From there, DARK JUSTICE would become a major success for the young network, and for the producers who brought it to audiences. It was all made possible by their partnership with Valderrama. "The response from him and his viewers was enough to reassure us that the show was good," recalls Gerbino. "It has been great to work with Ron, and we're so happy to have him in our corner."
Although Gerbino and Cannan have already employed a serialized approach to season 1 of DARK JUSTICE, that won't necessarily be the case for its second season. "We're making a plan for Season 2 that is a bit of a departure, and lends itself more to the way people watch content in 2016, which is exciting and actually a huge benefit to us content-wise," says Gerbino.

Most of all, Gerbino hopes that his show will play a role in influencing his viewers to discuss the ramifications of race in America, while taking the opportunity to better understand themselves and their neighbors. "The reason some people laugh at the show, while others write angry, hateful things about it, is because we're not doing a very good job listening to each other," he adds. "I hope the show starts conversations, even if the conversation is about how much the show sucks. To me, that's progress."