By Dwight Brown
NNPA Film Critic
Jordan Davis was born Feb 16, 1995. Contrary to his belief, he was not named after the basketball legend Michael Jordan. His mom, Lucia McBath, insists she named him after the crossing over of the Jordan River, symbolizing a new beginning.
For his mom and dad, Ron Davis, Jordan was their new beginning. Their lives were changed forever November 23, 2012, the day after Thanksgiving, when shots were fired at a gas station in Jacksonville, Florida.
Ten bullets hit a car full of teenage boys. When the violence is over, 17-year-old Jordan Davis, an African-American, has been killed by Michael David Dunn, a middle-aged White software developer in town for a wedding. The boys had been playing loud rap music; Dunn requested that they turn it down. They did for an instant, and then they turned it back up. What happened next depends on whom you talk to.
The 1950 film Rashomon, directed by the legendary Japanese filmmaker Akira Kurosawa, depicts the accounts of the witnesses, suspects, and victims of a rape and murder. All have different viewpoints, recollections and interpretations of the same encounter. “Rashomon effect” is a term that means contradictory interpretations of the same event by different people. It’s a dynamic that pervades just about every trial, where suspects and victims recount the same experience, differently. That’s what’s on view in this so-called “loud music” trial; the surviving boys have a different recollection than Dunn.
Producer Minette Wilson initiated this project, and collaborated with documentary director/cinematographer Marc Silver (Global Protest, Who is Dayani Cristal?) and executive producer Orlando Bagwell (Eyes on the Prize). They received open access to the parents of the victim, his friends and the trial. The viewer sits around the dinner table with now divorced Lucia McBath and Ron Davis, is invited to prayer circles, hears anecdotes about Jordan from his pals (he was a mediocre basketball player, but quick on his feet) and gets to know the brassy suburban kid who was killed.
What the documentary doesn’t do is get inside the head of Michael Dunn. We don’t find out how Dunn became the adult who dared to ask a carful of teens to turn their loud music down. Nor why on a Friday night while stopping to pick up wine and chips at a convenience store, he was carrying a gun in his glove compartment. Nor what he ever expected to do with a loaded firearm. Without these details, this documentary sheds light on only one side of the tragedy.
The film calls into question stand-your-ground laws that have been drafted in many states making self-defense with a gun when a “threat” is perceived, legal. Echoes of the Trayvon Martin case are in this documentary. In fact Trayvon Martin’s dad calls Jordan’s dad and says, “I want to welcome you to a club that none of us want to be in.”
Though the film focuses on this crime in particular, it also brings into view a pattern of young Black men being devalued and murdered, which spurs many to think that this country has a chronic social/racial problem that has to be solved.
The gut-wrenching subject of the film carries the movie. Security footage from the convenience store re-plays the dramatic pop, pop, pop sounds of the gunfire. The court proceedings are riveting. Arguments for stand-your-ground and against it cause debate. Semi-private conversations between Dunn and his girlfriend are as intriguing as the conversations between Jordan’s parents. Both couples are common people who have been thrust into a media spotlight by an incident that none could have fathomed when they woke up that Friday after Thanksgiving.
What the documentary the filmmakers have assembled is educational, eye opening, often emotional, sad and galvanizing. As the 98 minutes of footage roll by, it becomes apparent that Jordan’s tragedy is a chapter within a much longer book. It is also clear that stand-your-ground laws are on trial as much as Michael Dunn was. Notes Judge Russell L. Healey, who presided over the case; “There is nothing wrong with retreating or de-escalating a situation.”
Visit NNPA Film Critic Dwight Brown at DwightBrownInk.com.