DIR: Marc Silver • WRI: Marc Silver • PRO: Carolyn Hepburn, Minette Nelson • DOP: Marc Silver • ED: Emiliano Battista, Gideon Gold • MUS: Todd Boekelheide • CAST: Leland Brunson, Angela B. Corey, Ron Davis, Lucia McBath, Russell Healey, John Guy
On 23 November 2012, forty-five-year old Michael Dunn gunned down seventeen-year old, black high school student Jordan Davis in Jacksonville, Florida, after taking issue with the loud hip-hop music Davis and his three friends were playing in their car. Following his arrest, Dunn proclaimed he acted in self-defence, citing Florida’s Stand-Your-Ground law, whereby persons in fear are permitted to use deadly force when confronted with serious threat. Despite an overwhelming lack of evidence to suggest Davis was armed, the jury at Dunn’s trial was unable to reach a verdict on first-degree murder, resulting in a hung jury. At his subsequent retrial, Dunn was eventually found guilty of Davis’ murder and sentenced to life in prison without parole.
Filmmaker, writer and social impact strategist, Marc Silver’s emotive documentary, 3 1/2 Minutes, 10 Bullets attempts to delve into the equivocal events on that fateful Black Friday and investigate the circumstances that led to another unarmed, black teenage murder, the mistrial and eventual conviction of a white, middle-aged software engineer, whose unsubstantiated self-defence claim ignited a highly-charged national debate about racial gun crime, the US judicial system and Florida’s contentious self-defence laws. Drawing comparisons with the murder of seventeen-year old black student, Trayvon Martin by an acquitted George Zimmerman nine months previously, Silver’s film seeks to incriminate Dunn on the basis of racial motivation, a factor deemed inadmissible by the judge, and by doing so, expose the deep prejudicial flaws that tip the overall racial imbalances within the US legal system.
To present his case, Silver’s narrative structure is framed around three narrative strands to implicate Dunn and the judicial system, both which appear to subscribe to an unfounded national fear of unarmed black men by armed white men. Using footage of Dunn’s first trial, Silver centres on prosecution witness accounts, which testify to the inoffensive nature of Jordan Davis. To bolster such accounts, Silver’s cinematography, reproduced through a stylistically, arresting lens, enriches the trial’s original aesthetic, assuming a more sophisticated and cinematic platform, which romanticizes the victim like a Hollywood hero in a fictional courtroom drama. To ground the case on a more sobering level, Silver focuses on the extensive media coverage, which struck a national chord and proliferated a national discourse about racially motivated gun crime and the laws that pit and prejudice black victims against its white perpetrators. To humanize the brutal act of random, motiveless racial murder, Silver finally delineates the deep emotional impact on the family and community amidst the complicated political and legal wrangling, which serves to evoke a deeper senselessness in view of Florida’s laws, whereby an unmotivated racial killing through a perceived threat, is racial aggression against a wider racial community.
Silver’s overview of the murder of Jordan Davis is neatly contained within a ninety-eight minute narrative, which at times, reads like a fictional crime drama rather than a constructive investigation into the real-life murder of an unarmed black teenager. Indeed, Silver himself stands accused of the very same shortcomings that he has indicted the American justice system with, through a transparent bias and lack of critical balance in his overall reflection on the case. While the posthumous memorializing of Davis is wholly justified and the tragedy is symptomatic of the national picture, insufficient analyses of Dunn’s character and behaviour deny the opportunity to evaluate what sowed doubt in the minds of the first jury and whether Dunn did abide by the law when confronted with a perceived serious threat, leading to a hung jury. Silver equally fails to probe Florida’s self-defence law itself, which by default authorised the killing of Jordan Davis, if Dunn did indeed discern a weapon. Nor does he scrutinize the national outpouring of indignation at the result of the mistrial, which possibly had the weight to influence the second, thereby implicating the media and heated public opinion in the outcome of the eventual retrial.
Ultimately, Silver’s film does not offer fresh insight into the racial murder of Jordan Davis by Michael Dunn that has not been previously analysed by other media sources. In attempting to expose the deep flaws in the US judicial system, Silver inadvertently highlights his own flaws through his failure to present an impartial, objective overview of the murder and the ensuing trial. A palpable restraint, fear and tentativeness permeates throughout the narrative and while the director may explicitly denounce the crime, he appears reluctant to offer any opposing perspective to the dominant version of events, unwilling to entertain any possibility Dunn may have acted out of anything other than racial aggravation.
The murder of Jordan Davis became another catalyst to explore the legal flaws and racial prejudices that permeate the US judicial system. 3 1/2 Minutes, 10 Bullets continues the national discourse resulting from the case and extensively proliferated by the media. Whether the judge made a grave error in disallowing racial factors to be presented in court, Silver’s attempts to compensate for such omissions as a documentary filmmaker, fail to provide a more equitable insight into the murder, rather presenting a wholly biased and intolerant view of Dunn and his act of murder in relation to Florida’s legal stance on self-defence. While Silver’s film is a respectful and enlightening tribute to Davis’ memory and highlights a deep-rooted stain in Florida’s legal system in relation to its gun crime, racial profiling and self-defence laws, it does not attempt to challenge the system itself and Silver appears resigned to the fact that the next young black death is highly inevitable and merely a matter of time.
3 1/2 Minutes, 10 Bullets is released 2nd October 2015