Why you should care
The killing of unarmed black men has become a national crisis.
“Trayvon Martin’s father texted me,” Ronald Davis says in 3 1/2 Minutes. “‘I just want to welcome you into a club that nobody wants to be in.’”
Those chilling words, sent to Davis after his son, Jordan, was fatally shot by 45-year-old Michael Dunn following a dispute over loud rap music, evoked an audible gasp from the crowd at the Sundance Film Festival premiere of Marc Silver’s riveting documentary. 3 1/2 Minutes gives unprecedented access to the trial of Michael Dunn — who claims he shot Davis in self-defense — with courtroom video, recorded conversations with an imprisoned Dunn and interviews with Davis’ family and friends. The end result is a devastating, emotional documentary that left much of the audience in tears by the time the credits rolled.
Perhaps lost amid press coverage of Trayvon Martin’s death in 2012 and the 2014 deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner is the tragic passing of 17-year-old Jordan Davis on Nov. 23, 2012. Davis’ story may not have generated the same degree of attention from #BlackLivesMatter activists and the press because justice was eventually served in his case. Dunn was found guilty of murder and sentenced to life in prison without parole in 2014 — but it’s exactly how we got there that makes 3 1/2 Minutes significant.
Silver weaves courtroom video, Dunn’s interrogation and phone calls from prison with 911 calls from the day of the murder, along with security camera footage from the gas station where the altercation took place. 3 1/2 Minutes upends the all too frequent posthumous character assassination used against African-American victims of violence. At the heart of the film are interviews with Davis’ friends who were in the SUV with him when Dunn fired 10 shots into the vehicle. As the teenagers discuss their daily lives of chasing girls, shooting hoops and playing video games, it becomes clear that these aren’t thugs, as some claimed. And interviews with Davis’ parents, Lucia McBath and Ronald Davis, demonstrate that Davis wasn’t from a broken home and didn’t grow up in extreme poverty.
Using Dunn’s recorded conversations with his fiancée while in prison, the film doesn’t have to work to villainize him. He puts his foot in his mouth at every turn. When he refers to himself as a “rape victim,” it was just one of many Dunn quotables that caused the Sundance audience to suck their teeth in unison.
With HBO licensing the U.S. television rights to Silver’s documentary and announcing a fall premiere on the network, Davis’ father is hopeful that 3 1/2 Minutes won’t be pigeonholed as an African-American narrative.
“I don’t think you go to a black neighborhood or black venue to change minds. They already know about the black experience,” Davis tells OZY about the film’s relevance to a universal audience. “You have to tell people who don’t know about the black experience, so they can understand what we’re going through.”
With the film coming on the heels of a nationwide uproar over young African-American men being killed, the timing and significance of the Jordan Davis story could not be more on point.