The Right Footage

‘Stranger Fruit’: How New Footage Changed a Narrative

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Photograph of 18-year-old Michael Brown before he was shot by police officer Darren Wilson (Common Dreams)

Before last Saturday, the Michael Brown case was already a big pill for Americans to swallow.  Another young black man was left dead in the streets by police and most of the world had come to accept the fact that Darren Wilson had gotten away with murder but also that Michael Brown could’ve possibly committed a robbery.  That is, until filmmaker Jason Pollock released the biggest mic drop this year in the form of hidden footage at SXSW.  His documentary Stranger Fruit features damning footage that somehow had not made its way into public view until now. 

More than a year after St.Louis County announced that they would not be charging Darren Wilson with the murder of 18-year-young Michael Brown, Jason Pollock announced that he would be debuting a documentary that would “blow the roof off” the incomplete narrative that Americans had come to internalize. With the use of archive footage, shot footage, and endless research, Pollock and his team were able to reveal a piece of the puzzle the rest of the world didn’t even know existed.

The crucial security video shows Michael Brown at the same convenient store he was accused of robbing ten hours earlier, around 1:00 am.  After picking a few unidentified items from a refrigerator, the footage shows him going to the checkout counter where Pollock says an exchange happens between Brown and the store employees.  We see a bag of marijuana passed around and smelled by each employee, and then we see that the men on camera finish the exchange by handing Brown two boxes of cigarillos. Brown begins to walk out the door, then decides to leave the boxes for a later time.  Ten hours later, Brown would return for the cigarillos, but would also be gunned down in the street where he would lay dead for four hours.

This hidden surveillance footage is pivotal to understanding what kind of relationship Michael had with the shop and its emotional implications.  Was Brown a violent criminal robbing a store? Or was he returning for his cigarillos that were promised to him? As Pollock has argued in his film, and since in guest interviews, the security video was recorded by police but never publicly acknowledged.  It was hidden from the public and might have never been released if Pollock hadn’t decided to investigate the case himself. After releasing the emotionally charged documentary during the second day of SXSW, St. Louis County officials decided to release the footage to the public the following Monday.

This isn’t the first time secret footage was able to escape media attention and thus manufacture insufficient story lines.  In the O.J. Simpson case, audio recordings that O.J. covertly recorded weren’t made public until 20 years after the murders.  On the criminal trial verdict’s 20th anniversary, the Lifetime Movie Network debuted the documentary The Secret Tapes of the O.J. Case: The Untold Story, where audio recordings reveal incriminating evidence detailed by O.J. himself.       

The documentary has not only come to serve as an artistic voice for the Brown family, but also for activists fighting to ensure the release of all such footage to the American people. How many incomplete narratives have we unknowingly accepted?

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