By Kimberly Gadette (doddleNEWS)
Perhaps Michael Dunn misunderstood the term “Black Friday.” Perhaps he didn’t know that its origins harkened back to the 1960s, when the Philadelphia Police Department coined the term to describe the severe glut of post-Thanksgiving Day congestion due to the busiest shopping day of the year. Perhaps Dunn wasn’t clued in to the fact that in the 1980s, the retailers changed the name into something positive, i.e., the day that profits would soar from red to black. Perhaps, just perhaps, Dunn interpreted “Black Friday” to mean that this was the one special day of the year that any white person, anywhere in America, was allowed to shoot African Americans without any fear of reprisal.
Black Friday indeed.
3 1/2 Minutes, Ten Bullets is a courtroom documentary that recounts the events of the night of November 23, 2012, the ensuing trials and, via interviews and scenes with Jordan Davis’s family and friends, allows us to know a bit about a young man who was murdered for nothing other than listening to loud rap music in a car.
Given that there has been a horrific preponderance of recent killings of young African Americans (perpetrated by individuals as well as certain members of the police force), note that this documentary isn’t about murder victims Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Freddy Gray, Akai Gurley, Treyvon Martin, Tamir Rice, or Walter Scott. It’s about 17-year-old Jordan Davis. A teenager who, after refusing to turn down his music, was shot to death by a man named Michael Dunn who took out his 9mm pistol and fired ten bullets into the car occupied by Jordan and 3 of his friends. Dunn later defended himself by stating that he felt his life was in danger after he had been threatened by a gun … or maybe a pipe … or perhaps a stick.
This incident occurred a mere six months after George Zimmerman was acquitted for murdering 17-year-old Treyvon Martin who, by dint of wearing a hoodie, alarmed Zimmerman so much that he ended up shooting first, asking questions later. Both cases occurred within 123 miles of each other on the east coast of Florida – and both nodded to the problematic “Stand Your Ground” rule. (Before people consider avoiding Florida altogether, they should note that although the Sunshine State was the first to pass this self-defense law in 2005, other states have since followed suit. At last count, a total of 32.)
Producer Minette Nelson felt compelled to initiate the project when her son, “… angry and frustrated, challenged me to use my abilities as a producer to make it right.” After she’d read Paul Solotaroff’s Rolling Stone article detailing the shooting, Nelson recruited documentarian Marc Silver (2013’s Who is Dayani Cristal?).
A great deal of the documentary occurs in the courtroom, where the filmmakers received unusual access to the trial by being allowed to shoot with three cameras. Per Silver, “I was on one camera with a good lens at the back, shooting predominantly the witness stand and cutaways, and they allowed us to tap into two remote-controlled CCTV cameras.”
The other scenes, intercut with the trial, consist of revelatory moments with Jordan’s parents, his three buddies who were in the car with him that night, and heartbreaking home movies of Jordan as a baby and toddler. The filmmakers also capture scenes of protestors outside the courtroom (including children holding signs reading ‘I could be next’). Additionally, the film intermingles audio clips from local talk show hosts, their audience of outraged callers, and Dunn himself, lifted from his telephone conversations from prison.
In one particular audio clip, Dunn’s denial is jaw-dropping. We hear him tell his fiancée, Rhonda Rouer, “It’s not quite the same but it made me think of like the old TV shows and movies where like how the police used to think when a chick got raped going, ‘Oh, it’s her fault because of the way she dressed.’ I’m like, ‘So it’s my fault because I asked them to turn their music down.”
The courtroom scenes are well-cut, presenting the trial in focused detail. However, the documentary sidesteps an examination into Dunn himself. While the filmmakers’ requests to interview Dunn and his family were denied, other means could have been exercised. What about neighbors? Co-workers? School acquaintances, past girlfriends, ex-wives, etc.? Certainly a person casts a larger shadow over more just his immediate relatives.
And what about the fiancée? Rouer’s shaky testimony provided the most damning evidence of all. What were her motivations? Was she so vapid that she didn’t realize what she was saying? Was she so secretly disgusted with her murderer boyfriend that she jumped at the opportunity to get him gone? Questions, questions, questions …
And though another looming, underlying issue is deserving of its own documentary, the filmmakers surprisingly skirt this review’s aforementioned fact that 33 states have now passed “Stand Your Ground” legislation. Even though, per the press notes, the filmmakers have quite a decided point of view. Per director Singer: “The problem with ‘Stand Your Ground’ being used within the self-defense law is that, all too often, the only person who can challenge that narrative is dead.”
We turn to documentaries – in particular, human narratives – to explain the inexplicable. Or at the very least, to provide substantive illumination. Though Jordan Davis’s story cries out to be told, 3 1/2 Bullets, Ten Minutes leaves the audience still searching for a light.
Rating on a scale of 5 of those 10 terrible bullets: 3.5
VOD release date: November 23, 2015 (HBO)
Directed by: Marc Silver
Featuring: Ron Davis, Lucia McBath, Tommie Stornes, Leland Brunson, Tevin Thompson, Michael Dunn, Rhonda Rouer, Jordan Davis
Running Time: 98 minutes
Here’s the trailer: