By its nature, prison abolition demands that we dissolve existing frameworks that unduly uphold power structures. The documentary “Reimagining Safety” by Los Angeles-based filmmaker Matthew Solomon examines from micro and macro lenses the economic, sociocultural, political and ideological forces that maintain the carceral system and outlines the steps needed to dismantle them.
On Feb. 16 in the Scripps Humanities Auditorium, 5C Prison Abolition Collective hosted a screening of the film followed by a Q&A with Solomon and Jose Gutierrez, a clinical social worker and one of the 10 experts featured as interview subjects in the film. This event marked the advent of the Spring 2023 Speaker Series & Workshops presented by 5C Prison Abolition Collective.
This film was Solomon’s capstone project for his master’s in Public Administration at Claremont Lincoln University, a culmination of his studies on prison abolition. The featured experts were advocates of prison abolition, whose occupations included former police officers, academics, sociologists, civil rights activists and social workers.
Solomon emphasized the importance of viewing the issue from the lenses of individuals of different races, walks of life and upbringings. In the post-film Q&A, he said that he started off with five experts but decided he wanted a more diverse array of perspectives.
Driven by the experts’ interview responses, the film diagnosed misconceptions around prison abolition while simultaneously using them as devices to propose solutions and plant the seeds for new ideas.
By structuring the film around this critical dialogue, Solomon was able to carefully interweave dissections of common criticisms of prison abolition into his primary argument: police reforms are mere band-aids slapped on the fundamentally flawed basis of the carceral system, which is to micromanage and intimidate the underprivileged. The dialectical narrative structure mirrored the complex untangling needed in real life.
Attendee Leila Riker PZ ’25, a member of the 5C Prison Abolition Collective, praised Solomon’s directing.
“The film made abolition seem not only digestible but the only possible answer, which I appreciated,” Riker said. “Prison abolition can be a hard pill for many people to swallow. Reimagining the world is very difficult when all you’ve known is that a certain amount of change is possible.”
“The film made abolition seem not only digestible but the only possible answer, which I appreciated. Prison abolition can be a hard pill for many people to swallow. Reimagining the world is very difficult when all you’ve known is that a certain amount of change is possible.”
Solomon interspersed intense, upsetting and often graphic clips of police violence towards Black individuals throughout the film. Many attendees took issue with this element, and several stepped out of the event due to the trauma and distress the imagery induced. Solomon addressed this concern in the Q&A.
“Imagery drives the point home. There are people in my life in law enforcement and putting imagery to the things people are saying makes [the ideas presented] not conceptual anymore.”
Riker believed the imagery actively detracted from the film’s message.
“The sheer amount of extraordinary Black violence that was shown in the film was to a fault,” Riker said. “The ongoing debate of who should and shouldn’t be spared from seeing violence is complex, and I understand that Solomon probably grappled with it, but as a filmmaker he could have evoked the same emotion without the oftentimes retraumatizing graphic imagery. I felt like he indulged in his ability to spam us with that violence.”
“The sheer amount of extraordinary Black violence that was shown in the film was to a fault. The ongoing debate of who should and shouldn’t be spared from seeing violence is complex, and I understand that Solomon probably grappled with it, but as a filmmaker he could have evoked the same emotion without the oftentimes retraumatizing graphic imagery. I felt like he indulged in his ability to spam us with that violence.”
Lila Murphy PO ’25, one of the two event organizers, stated during the event that, based on conversations about the film beforehand, board members of the collective were led to believe that there would be no graphic imagery of violence.
In a follow-up email to all members of the collective, they stated that they would thoroughly assess material for future screenings.
“This was a big learning experience for our Collective’s organizers and we will never screen something again without first vigorously vetting it ourselves,” the email stated. “We did not mean to be cavalier with displaying excessive violence, and do not take lightly the traumatic potential of such imagery.”
The experts emphasized that abolitionists don’t advocate for immediate abolishment of prisons and police — at present this is neither possible nor desired. They want to see community-based action that allows for decreased reliance on the police, which encompasses transferring funds from police departments to community-based organizations. In order for this shift to occur, they argue there must be a behavioral and ideological shift away from our rampant individualism, unfounded distrust of others and cerebral thinking.
More information about the film can be found at https://www.reimaginingsafetymovie.com/.