Stranger Fruit was probably the most emotional I’ve seen any screening in all my years of doing SXSW. The mood was already a little dire and sad just walking into the theater to see the story of Michael Brown, a high school graduate who was killed in the middle of the street by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri. His death sparked outrage and protests not only in the United States, but around the world. It was Brown’s death along with the death’s of Sandra Bland, Trayvon Martin, and too many others to remember that helped spark the Black Lives Matter movement. This story is undeniably heartbreaking and compelling, and while I didn’t personally love the way that director Jason Pollock presented the film in certain areas of the film, this is required viewing for any parent, as well as anyone who’s concerned about race relations in this country.
During this screening, I saw something that I had never seen before. A standing ovation before the movie even started. Michael Brown’s mother was in attendance. Emotions were already running high before, during and after the screening. Any critiques that I have of the film felt and still feel irrelevant just by that description. No parent should have to endure the loss of their child, let alone at such a young age like Michael Brown. But what makes this documentary all the more curious and fascinating is that there’s footage of Michael Brown that’s never been seen before until yesterday’s screening. The Ferguson police department at the time had presented the world with footage of what looked like Michael Brown robbing a convenience store, what wasn’t the case.
Jason Pollock gives us shocking footage of Brown in the same convenience store the night before his death exchanging items with the clerks and then going to pick up the items the next day. This conflicts with the Ferguson police story, obviously. The Justice Department ended up finding months later that the city of Ferguson and the police department had tampered with this case in ways that you shouldn’t exactly do so. While that wasn’t the end of the case, the cop who shot him ended up not being tried and continues to walk as a free man for taking the life of another human being, but with this movie the memory of Michael Brown will continue to be preserved for generations to come.
Pollock interviews the friends and family of Michael Brown, with many of them having been witnesses to his death by that cop. Pollock also serves as the narrator and guide to this story as he delivers how the death of Michael Brown connects all the way to the Governor’s office in Missouri. It’s pretty damning evidence that Pollock presents, but it kind of makes me wonder if any of these officials were approached to participate in this film. I doubt they would’ve, but it would’ve been interesting to see them try to defend what ended up happening in Ferguson. To see them defend gunning down an unarmed black teen in the middle of the street.
If you’re not familiar with this case, you must see Stranger Fruit. It’s essential viewing for anyone who wants to learn about this case. But if you’re like me and was captivated by this case when it was unfolding, and was upset when no charges were given to the police officer, then I recommend seeing this film. I don’t feel like it would be right of me to give a rating for this film, as the life of Michael Brown shouldn’t have a rating. It would be disrespectful to Michael Brown and his family. The film is playing a few other times during the fest this year, so if you have time I recommend checking it out.