Review: 3 ½ Minutes, 10 Bullets
By Carole McDonnell
When I first saw the invitation to screen this film, I balked. To be perfectly honest, I pictured wailing, grief, untimely and wrongful death, injustice. Grief and injustice tend to get me down and I have to be in the mood for them. And wrongful death makes me fall into melancholy and world-weariness. It didn’t help that the film concerned yet another “Stand Your Ground” legal case. I’m just not good at dealing with injustice and mealy-mouthed word-games-playing lawyers who use rhetoric to protect defendants. Besides, like most Americans –of whatever race, ethnic or religious group—I am somewhat burned out by politics.
But, like a good student who hates politics and sociology but who knows she has to do something for the cause, I ventured into the screener site and clicked, the wimpy part of me hoping for happy ending. Or a just ending at least. The HBO documentary wasn’t that bad… at least for people who think about race in the same way I do. Other folks might think justice was not served.
It’s no secret that Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” Law is not a well-written law. A law written to help those who have had to defend themselves against attackers, even those in their own homes, Florida’s Stand Your Ground law can be --and has been-- applied in some very odd ways. It has been used to justify killing those who were shot in the back, those fleeing a gunman. It has been used to protect people who were not even inside their homes and those murderers who attacked the deceased person first. It has even NOT been applied in a situation where a black woman fired a warning shot to stop her abusive boyfriend from attacking her. It has often been applied in situations where the shooter “believed” he was “in danger of his life” and “was sure” the person he had shot –usually a black youth-- had “a weapon.” The weapon often turned out to be a comb, a wallet, a credit card. But in an era when many white people believe that poor minority and/or dark-skinned youth are “thugs” ready to attack, one ends up with very antsy trigger-happy shooters who shoot first then ask questions later.
The documentary follows the case of Michael Dunn, a white man who shot Jordan Davis, a seventeen-year-old young black man. Depending on what political side one fell on, the case was either a tragic accident or a ruthless execution.
The documentary is good at showing the cultural nuances connected with the killing. For instance, there was road-rage and rap music involved. Those who called it “a murder caused by loud music” tended to be a bit more neutral, although they too often took one racial stance over another. They could, after all, understand rage but they were either more forgiving of Michael Dunn’s anger, considering it rage but not racial rage. Or they considered the shooting non-racial but “understood” the fear caused in white men when Black youth were listening to gangster rap.
The documentary focuses on the court case with interviews and taped conversations thrown in. We also meet the defendant, Michael, who is an unreliable and unbelievable a “victim” as one could ever see on film. Of course, some folks might believe him. Credibility is in the heart and soul of the beholder and, ever since the O.J. trial, the American viewership of legal cases have been known to be divided about how guilty the defendant appears. I will only say that Michael Dunn lost me when he got weepy on the stand. Especially when he mentioned his fiancé. He always choked up, sobbed, and had do dab his eyes in a moment of silence. It seemed pretty played, especially since those who had lost their friend were not choking up on the stand.
It’s a good and useful documentary. It is straight-forward without any cinematographic tricks. But it is honest and well-researched. Director, Marc Silver, the foundations, and production companies involved in making this film all allow the defendant and his spokesmen to have their say while they also depict the parents’ grief. The film is unbiased as it shows the effect of the shooting on those involved and fair in its depiction of the court case. I don’t know if it will single-handedly bring down the “perception of danger” portions of the Stand Your Ground law. But it might be another nail in its coffin.