A thoughtful adaptation of Brown’s mother’s memoir might be what the world needs right now.
Art has always served as the aperture to life, replicating the things seen and unseen and simplifying the chaotic worries we tuck away after watching a few minutes of the daily news. Unfortunately, it’s nothing exceptionally shocking when a black American is kill by police — yeah, of course they’re hardly ever armed, and yes, we know the police officers are most likely going to be acquitted, but like clockwork, each time the verdict comes around, there’s a reaction.
It’s been almost three years since the fatal shooting of Michael Brown by Officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson, Missouri. The shooting awoke something locally and nationwide as tension grew with a fever similar to the fires that were set to stores. Everybody had something to say about the topic, from journalists and news anchors to civilians, teachers, police officers. It was only a matter of time before filmmakers took a jab at it.
According to The Tracking Board, Warner Bros. is developing a drama about the shooting based on the memoir “Tell the Truth & Shame the Devil: The Life, Legacy, and Love of My Son Michael Brown,” written by Brown’s mother, Lezley McSpadden, with novelist Lyah Beth LeFlore. The studio is reportedly interested in making something tonally and thematically similar to Crash.
That critically acclaimed and Best Picture-winning 2005 drama delves deep into the fundamentals of ones’ psyche and the influences society has on it. Race, sex, and simplistic right and wrongs are heavily discussed in the movie in a manner that leaves you understanding all sides of the argument. Each character is flawed without a doubt and thus makes decisions that impact their lives both positively or negatively. Although not every decision is something you can agree with, it’s something you can understand and/or sympathize with.
Something similar to the delivery of Crash is vital in this case because of how complex the details are. Brown was a freshly graduated youth spending the summer with his grandmother in Ferguson in 2014. He and Dorian Johnson were a minute away from reaching home on August 9th when Officer Darren Wilson pulled up next to them in his cruiser. Johnson told CNN that Wilson ordered them, upon arrival, to “get the fuck on the sidewalk.”
The pair then remarked that they were close to home and soon would be off the road. In response Wilson tried, but failed, to get out of the car. Whether this attempt infuriated or humiliated the officer is the question at hand, because from there an undisputed conflict occurred. Both versions of the tale contradict each other, but Johnson’s account describes Wilson as ill-tempered, as he actually reached through the window and choked Brown as the young man attempted to pull away.
“’I’ll shoot you’ or ‘I’m going to shoot’” is what Johnson recalls Wilson saying before suddenly firing and hitting Brown. From there, Johnson and an injured Brown took off running. Johnson hid behind the first car he saw as he heard the officer exit the cruiser and pursue Brown, firing his gun as he did so.
“He (Wilson) fired a second shot, and that struck my friend Big Mike,” Johnson described, “And at that time, he turned around with his hands up, beginning to tell the officer that he was unarmed and to tell him to stop shooting. But at that time, the officer firing several more shots into my friend, and he hit the ground and died.”
But here is where the confusion kicks in: St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar disputes this version, claiming Brown was the aggressor. Belmar says the investigation shows that the officer tried to exit his vehicle, but Brown pushed him back into the car, “where he physically assaulted the police officer” and struggled for the gun.
A witness, Tiffany Mitchell, recalls the incident herself and sides with Johnson’s version, agreeing that Brown wasn’t looking for trouble and that in fact he looked like he was trying to pry away from the police cruiser as Wilson pulled him closer. Although Mitchell witnessed both the scuffle and the murder, she was deemed not credible, and a St. Louis County grand jury decided not to indict Wilson. The officer was exonerated of criminal wrongdoing by the Department of Justice, which ruled that Wilson shot Brown in self-defense.
In response, McSpadden released her memoir, illuminating her beliefs on what she feels happened to her son that fateful day. Much discussion has been given to Brown’s actions prior to being pulled over, including him possibly robbing a convenience store, but the police have ruled this irrelevant to the case, stating the sole reason for Brown and Johnson being stopped was them walking in the street.
Brown’s father believes that the robbery in question was used simply to demonize his son and excuse the behavior of officers. “I just want the public to know that he wasn’t … a bad guy,” he said.
Luckily, for the sake of that wish, it’s a great relief that several studios showed interest in tackling the adaptation of the memoir, with Warner Bros. eventually prevailing. The Tracking Board reports that insiders from the studio claim the company is eager to hire a writer of color to tackle the sensitive project.
Honestly, that’s not a bad idea considering all the acclaim Rylan Coogler received from his depiction of the shooting of Oscar Grant in Fruitvale Station. That movie hits deep, revealing Grant as not only an unfortunate victim but as a father, a son, and overall a man. The heart weeps for the person we imagine Oscar could become and feel nothing but sorrow when his life is stolen away by the people hired to protect it.
Other films involving the Brown shooting so far have primarily included documentaries about the Ferguson unrest that followed. With careful direction and thoughtful dialogue, the Warner Bros. movie could deliver some form of clarity so that viewers can leave the theater with a newfound understanding and perception on the story that flipped America upside down.
Correction: “An earlier version of this post mischaracterized the critical reception of a related film.”