“Monster” centers around the story of a Harlem teenager (Steve Harmon) who’s artistic passions and film-school background inadvertently get him mixed up with the wrong crowd and a robbery gone wrong, where bad timing and a few mis-steps conspire to find him under arrest for murder. Alone and subject to the brutality and intricacy of the of the New York City criminal justice system, he fights for his innocence and his sanity with the help of a cynical but committed public defender and the bewildered support of his family and friends. But his support system only goes so far in the context of a justice system where someone who looks like him is all to often presumed guilty until proven innocent, and treated accordingly. The film does a masterful job of humanizing the main character, establishing him early-on as a “good kid” with talent, opportunity, and aspirations, and going to great lengths to represent him as a part of the model Harlem family. And this creates obvious dissonance upon his arrest and incarceration, intensifying the feeling for the viewer that he is isn’t supposed to be in the situation that is unfolding. An overt critique of the status quo within within the american criminal justice system, especially as it relates to people of color, the film expertly toes the line between drawing attention to the shortcomings and injustices present in a system that unfairly targets young black men, and highlighting a toxic street culture that perpetuates cycles of incarceration within the same demographic. And while the story leaves you rooting for the main character and skeptical of the current state of legal due process in urban settings in the United States, it doesn’t let him completely off the hook for his shortcomings and mistakes either, leaving the viewer to wrestle with the gray area between innocence and guilt and the the reality that things aren’t always as black and white as one might presume or even prefer. The internal wresting that ensues as a result of this tension seems to be the crux of the film, reminding the audience that while we certainly aren’t all treated the same way by the institutions that we have a established over time to serve and protect us, we all have a shared responsibility to fight for true justice and take responsibility for our own actions. However, the film makes a clear statement that the public cannot simply turn a blind eye to a criminal “justice” system that blatantly targets and disproportionately impacts people of color. It is easier to try to establish clear boundaries or sides in the face of difficult situations and difficult work, and to think in black and white, left or right, good or bad. But as “Monster” shows us, the realities of life are far more nuanced than that and require us to enter into the gray areas, finding common ground in uncertainty, and brining the wisdom of different perspectives and experiences into the way the we interpret the things that we allow to shape us as a community, such as law, culture, religion, and the like. The systemic failures that individuals and communities face each day are everyone’s problem, and progress can only be made when each of us take it upon ourselves to be a part of the solution.