REVIEW: ‘All Light, Everywhere’ Showcases the Subjectivity of Body Cams

Reading Time: 4 minutes

All Light Everywhere

Directed by Theo Anthony, All Light Everywhere is an exploration of the shared histories and biases of cameras, weapons, policing, and justice. As surveillance technologies become a fixture in everyday life, the film interrogates the complexity of objectivity. It explores how a point of view is always present and it probes the biases inherent in both human perception and the lens used to capture moments itself.

Police brutality happens, and over the last few years, civilians have been able to record it on their phones. This has shined a light on the abuses faced daily by majority Black communities. As a way to attempt to curb the brutality and unjust murders of unarmed people at the hands of the police, many cities have instituted body cameras. The footage from these body cams become “unbiased” witnesses to events and are presented in court that way. But, with All Light, Everywhere, we’re taken through the creation and implementation of body cams via Axon and how because of the way the footage is saved, the cameras have bias built into them.

While the dive into Axon is compelling, showcasing the bias of the owner himself in small moments, it’s the care taken to explore how bodycam footage has bias baked into them, that is most interesting and upsetting. Not only from the viewpoint they represent but also how a lens can be used to tell a story different from what our eyes would tell us. As a viewer, bodycam footage and the refusal of corrupt police departments to share it has led me into a false sense of security with footage acting as unbiased evidence. But, All Light Everywhere investigates that, pushing viewers to recognize that, like with any use of a lens, it can be manipulated.

By using footage from bodycams, from Axon and others, Anthony showcases how the very placement of the came, on the body, puts the viewer, which in many cases will be the jury, in the position of the person wearing it. That puts the events from their perspective, pushing empathy not for their victim, but for them. Additionally, All Light Everywhere explains the lens itself, how wide it is, how many people it shows, where its positioned, and how an arm of an officer can obscure it. Body cams are not silent observers, nor are the timers that trigger them, or the weapons that Axon creates in addition to the cameras. Surveillance is never without bias, and in this case, racism.

Body cams in praxis recreate the view of the police, their crimes and their supposed fear for the jury. When presented as a piece of evidence, the way that they exist, from the police perspective only, creates a bias of empathy towards them and dehumanizes the individual in the footage. While watching All Light Everywhere, I found myself pushed to the reality that even in cases where footage is released, it isn’t always damning to those watching it. Specifically, the situation in Chicago where the cops killed Adam Toledo, a 13-year-old Latino boy, a child, and even with body cam footage, were allowed to escape any justice, any charges. When the footage was released, we saw it for the evil it was. But in that courtroom, to that prosecutor, to that jury, and to that judge, it only showed that the cops involved were “justified” for murdering a boy.

All Light Everywhere also takes a step further in not only explaining that what we deem objective is actually subjective, but also situating body cams within the long history of evidence collection and policing. In fact, it’s Anthony’s intentionality in positioning All Light Everywhere as a part of a history of bias in policing that began the moment a system was created to catalog people and attach them to supposed crimes.

The importance of All Light Everywhere is the lens it points at evidence, how we view actions, what we view as policing, and ultimately, how all of that isn’t with subjectivity informed by the position of those presenting the “evidence” and those receiving it. It’s hard to watch this documentary and not think of the continued violence perpetrated and the way it remains rampant and “justifiable.” It’s a hard film to watch, not because of what it shows, but of the way it lays out the bias of something that should be on the side of the people. A recording of an event should be the event, but instead it’s informed by the system in which it is taken and the people who judge it.

I am not naive enough to have ever thought bodycam footage was an end to brutality. For those who have been harassed by the police with a camera squarely on their vest, we know it means nothing.  But for many, body cams were supposed to be a step towards having injustice seen. But in truth, it’s another element to be manipulated. For white people, for those from non-marginalized backgrounds, cameras are like a line in the films: “Camera don’t take sides.” But for a lot of us, cameras are just an other way to watch our moves, to demonize us, to harm us. As a documentary, All Light Everywhere succeeds in pushing an important conversation while also unraveling the racist and subjective history of surveillance. A camera does take a side.

Now, if you’re worried of watching with the fear of being re-traumatized again with brutality on camera, Anthony makes the clear decision to not show that. The bodycam footage we see is of a mall cop walking through a mall, of someone testing a camera while firing at a paper stand-in for a person. While the trauma is in perspective, it isn’t in view. And that choice helps keep All Light Everywhere keep from being, for lack of better words, trauma porn.

Instead, All Light Everywhere is a must-watch film. It explores the tension between bodycam footage being treated as objective in the courts while also being subjective in nature. It explores this without belittling the trauma of communities that are victims of police violence and instead calls for viewers to interrogate how they privilege “evidence” by an assumption of objectivity that has been manufactured.

All Light Everywhere is in theaters June 4, 2021.

All Light Everywhere 
  • 8/10
    Rating - 8/10
8/10

TL;DR

All Light Everywhere is a must watch film. It explores the tension between body cam footage being treated as objective in the courts while also being subjective in nature. It explores this without belittling the trauma of communities that are victims of police violence and instead calls for viewers to interrogate how they privilege “evidence” by an assumption of objectivity that has been manufactured.