After Michael Dunn, a white man, shot and killed Jordan Davis, a Black 17-year-old boy, in a gas station parking lot in Florida, Jordan’s father Ron received a text from Trayvon Martin’s father, welcoming him to a “club” that none of them wanted to be in.
The documentary “3 ½ Minutes, 10 Bullets,” directed by Marc Silver, (“Who is Dayani Cristal?”) chronicles the trial of Michael Dunn in 2012. Unlike the several other recent cases involving young Black people killed by whites, there was no dispute over whether Dunn was guilty of killing Davis — which he did after asking Davis to turn that “thug music” down. Dunn’s defense relies on his insistence that under Florida’s stand-your-ground laws: He was in the right, as he thought Davis had a shotgun. But when Dunn’s then-fiancé Rhonda Rouer is cross-examined, she says, in a wavery voice, that Dunn had never told her anything about Davis having a gun. No weapons of any kind were found in Davis’s car. At one point, we hear Dunn complaining to Rouer that he feels he’s being victim-blamed in the same way a scantily-clad woman might be.
Names like Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown are whispered or shouted throughout this documentary as it rightly puts the trial in context of the exploding outrage over racial biases (whether conscious or subconscious) that play a part in the killings of Black people in America. For example, the documentary adds context by focusing on both the news coverage of this trial as well as the trial itself. In light of recent events, this documentary feels more subtle and controlled in its representation of Dunn, when it could have very harshly thrown him into sharp relief. The documentary, though focusing heavily on how racial prejudice played into this tragic event and the subsequent trials, also dedicates a substantial amount of time to the second-amendment rhetoric and discourse on gun laws that surrounded this case.
The documentary pulls on our emotions without cheapening its story; we see Jordan’s parents crying at their table, trying to figure out how this could have happened five minutes from their home, when he was with a group of “good” boys.
Aside from the interviews with Jordan’s parents, the most riveting moments of the documentary are the interviews with Jordan’s friends, all young Black teenagers. They’re fully aware of the camera and the context in which they’re being interviewed. They’re sad, but they’re not confused. They know why Dunn pulled out his gun, and why the first jury didn’t agree on a first-degree murder charge. They talk about the racial overtones of the shooting and the trial more than anyone else in the documentary does. One of Jordan’s friends says, shaking his head, “ ‘Thug’ is the new n-word.”
The documentary is uneven in its coverage of the first and second trials, focusing more on the first, but the courtroom scenes are captivating. It ends with the fact that Dunn was given a life sentence without parole for murdering Jordan Davis and an additional 90 years for attempted murder of Leland Brunson, Tevin Thompson and Tommie Stornes, Jordan’s friends who were also in the car.
“3 ½ Minutes, 10 Bullets” isn’t exceptional in terms of aesthetic cinematography or directorial choices. The music sometimes feels out of place, and often the interview audio bites or recordings of phone calls are played over extraneous shots of cars driving on highways. But you get the feeling that the people involved in making it really couldn’t care less about that. They know that what is important is the story and the context in which this story unfortunately unfolded.