Marc Silver Discusses Documentary About Slain Black Teen Jordan Davis

A Q&A With the Director of "3 1/2, Minutes, Ten Bullets"

3 1/2 Minutes, Ten Bullets. Participant Media

Ronald Davis didn't worry when his son, Jordan, left to spend Black Friday 2012 with friends. The 17-year-old was a good boy, he told filmmaker Marc Silver, and planned to spend the day in a good neighborhood in Jacksonville, Fla.

It was the last time Davis saw his son alive.

A computer programmer named Michael Dunn shot Jordan to death in the parking lot of a Gate Gas Station. Dunn, middle-aged and white, fired a volley of shots into the Dodge Durango containing the black teen and his friends after they refused to lower the rap music blaring from their SUV.

Afterward Dunn told authorities that he shot Jordan because he thought the youth had a gun. No such weapon turned up. Following a mistrial, Dunn was convicted of murder in October 2014.

Filmmaker Marc Silver documented the killing of Jordan Davis and the trials that followed in “3 ½ Minutes, Ten Bullets.” The documentary won a Special Jury Award for Social Impact at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival. It will be released theatrically in New York City on June 19, 2015, followed by a national release and its HBO debut. I spoke* with Silver about the film and its potential impact on race relations.

Nadra Nittle: How did you come to tell this story?

Marc Silver: We met with Jordan’s parents a couple of weeks before the George Zimmerman verdict. It was [seven] months after the murder and at that point, I was looking at the forensics of what happened. It was kind of the perfect storm of racial profiling.

... And then Ferguson happened and ‘3 ½ Minutes’ resonated in a much broader way.

NN: How did you gain the trust of Jordan’s parents, Ronald Davis and Lucia McBath?

MS: We actually spent a week together hanging out in Jacksonville, where his father lived, and Atlanta, where his mother lived. We met with his friends and girlfriend and over the course of the week we’d built up a relationship.

By the end of the week, we trusted each other.

In the film, you get to know Jordan through his best friends, his parents and his girlfriend. They counter the stereotype of the dangerous young black man.

NN: Some critics of the film have said that it’s lopsided because it focuses too much on Davis’ family and not enough on Dunn. What’s your response to that?

MS: We tried to ask permission to speak with Michael Dunn’s family as well and Rhonda, his fiancee, but were denied that access. Dunn has never spoken to Jordan’s parents or shown any remorse for what’s happened. I feel we did a good job allowing Michael Dunn to speak by using his initial interviews with police as well as filming him on the witness stand and using the prison recordings of  phone calls between him and his fiancee about why he felt this incident had occurred.  

Michael Dunn was a deeply fascinating character. What we learned about him from his initial police interviews and these phone calls...was Michael Dunn was totally unaware of his own racism. Metaphorically he reflects a large part of America that’s unaware of its own racism. He couldn’t come to terms with the possibility that actually these young men were not a threat to him.

Many people will be able to identify with the fear Michael Dunn felt of these four black teenagers, even though not everyone would lean over and pull out a gun. It’s frightening how many associate blackness with danger.

NN: “3 ½ Minutes” also touches on the Stand Your Ground law. Can you discuss that?

MS: In this case, the Stand Your Ground self-defense law we’re talking about is in Florida but [these laws] are actually in about half of the states in the U.S. It took about an hour for the judge to read out the self-defense law and what that means to the jury so they could deliberate. Because of the complexity of the self-defense laws, it gave the jury reasonable doubt and made it impossible for them to reach a decision, so there was a mistrial [before Dunn’s murder conviction].

NN: How do Jordan’s parents feel about getting justice in the legal system, when so many other families in their situation have not?

MS: They’re more than aware that they’re really lucky the case went to court, let alone that they got justice in legal terms. They’re absolutely also aware that what happened to Jordan is at the heart of what happened to many other people. People are talking about those issues rather than the fact that they were actually lucky enough to get justice.

NN: Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Eric Garner — so many black men have landed in the headlines in recent years for being killed by police or gun-toting civilians. They’re all described as unarmed black men, but clearly Jordan Davis was more than that. What made him unique, and are you worried about him being forgotten?

MS: A lot of people have been named over the last few years for being killed tragically. Almost every week, there’s a new name. Trayvon Martin’s dad welcomed Jordan Davis’ dad into this club that no one wants to be part of. I don’t see Jordan as just another name. I kind of see it different. There’s a connection between all of these names.  ...Jordan’s dad, he couldn’t believe this happened. Jordan was a good kid in a good neighborhood. It’s tragic that blackness is potentially life-threatening. When Trayvon was killed, Jordan told his father, ‘That could’ve been me.’

NN: Your documentary is sure to make some people uncomfortable. Why should audiences go see a film that might make them squirm?

MS: There’s a lot of uncomfortable truths revealed, but if you’re interested in a more holistic and peaceful society and you want to see the human beings behind the stories the news doesn’t have time to get into, you should see it. It’s a great way for audience members to question their relationships to other people.

*The responses have been edited for clarity and continuity.