The 2008 BBC series Criminal Justice is an interesting study in masculinity, though it chickens out at some points and plays a gross race card at others. There’s a sort of disturbing coyness in how they invoke prison rape without it actually happening; at one point, Ben Whishaw’s character is attacked by a gang that strip him, soap him, and cover him with grass clippings (because he’s suspected of “grassing out”—informing on—other inmates). Here, he’s being coerced by the ruling prisoner into accepting “protection” from that kind of abuse. The symbolism’s obvious to all concerned: this boy’s a calf for the cooking. There’s something about making him touch the raw meat that’s a more intimate sexual threat than the stripping and spanking.
But goddamn it, Criminal Justice, Y U SO RACIST? Prison boss Freddie Graham is smart, powerful, and far more canny than cruel, but he’s not scary for any of those reasons—he’s scary, the show implies, because he’s black. Whenever he interacts with Ben (Coulter, Whishaw’s character), he’s shown in these claustrophobic two-shots, or reverse shots that fill the screen and put the viewer in Ben’s place. The implication being that the simple physical proximity of a black body is more threatening than a shiv in the shower. Ugh.