Review: They Won't Call It Murder

Premise:

Mothers, sisters and grandmothers of those killed by Columbus police, seeking justice in a community bound together by grief and a system that refuses to call these killings murder.

Review:

Field of Vision has long been an outlet for the most provocative and unfiltered human stories that do not have the kind of backing that dominates the news cycle. Co-directors Melissa Gira Grant and Ingrid Raphaël, pick up this heart-wrenching issue and refuse to let us be distracted from the pain of family after family who have lost loved ones to police killings in Columbus, Ohio. They also refuse to allow us to look away from that pain being compounded by officer after officer never being brought to justice.


The opening of the film creates a sense of foreboding in a very unconventional way, as we follow Adrienne Hood as she speaks, first very nostalgically about her son’s basketball prowess. She goes on to speak very plainly about the ‘Summer Safety Initiative’ designed to make young people aware of plainclothes police officers and unmarked vehicles and how best to survive encounters with police and finally recounting the last moments of her son, Henry “Bub” Green who was shot and killed by undercover officers at the age of 23. The matter-of-fact way that the police element is introduced into the story immediately induces anxiety, even without any overt distress or sadness shown by a woman recounting how her son was taken from her.


This story sets up the framework for everything that follows, with story after story threatening to overwhelm us with the sheer level of tragedy. Raphaël and Grant display laser-precision storytelling as they consistently pick the statement or the question that maximises just how heart-breaking it is to be a member of this very tragic community. Lines like “I hate that I feel her here” and “You can’t see him because he’s evidence” hang in the air, their delivery hitting the audience like a solar plexus punch. The racial elements quickly become apparent as we see black victim after black victim and white cop after white cop with one notable exception, leading to one the film’s thematic pivot points.


The crew is deeply embedded with its subjects, capturing their “new normals” and the full range of emotions that come with it. From Bobbi McCalla reminiscing about her sister Donna’s childhood ‘gang’ with tear-filled smiles to Malika King recanting her late son’s entrepreneurial spirit. The decision to lean into obscure and even funny aspects of the lives of these lost loved ones serves to highlight how special, unique and irreplaceable they were.


The film maintains a steady pace as its scope slowly increases over the course of its runtime. As the families’ stories of each victim coalesce into a shared experience, then a societal issue and finally a movement, we are given a personal journey from a set of tragedies to a society-wide push for change. The filmmaking style is raw and visceral without sacrificing the laboured pace that forces you to sit in each affecting moment rather than speeding past them in a list of injustices.


Essentially, this film asks some very pointed questions about American justice, particularly when it comes to race. And while it would wield considerable power if that was its only function, Melissa Gira Grant and Ingrid Raphaël take it a step further in order to highlight the power of community across colour lines. Even as the structures and systems responsible for the application of justice are challenged, the concept and principle of justice and the belief that it can exist is embraced by the movements that demand that it is brought into being.


They Won’t Call It Murder highlights the corrupt application of law enforcement upon individuals, but it ultimately reminds us, through its unflinching lens, of the importance of society itself taking each difficult step towards the delivery of justice, no matter how big or small that step may be. Because if they won’t call it murder, then we have to.


Studio: Field of Vision | Year: 2021 | Genre: Documentary | Duration: 20 Mins | Suitability: Mature


Directors: Melissa Gira Grant, Ingrid Raphael | Producers: Ruun Nuur, Chase Whiteside |


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