Marc Silver’s latest documentary, 3 1/2 Minutes, Ten Bullets, tells a story that has become all too familiar in America these days. A random altercation between strangers erupts into violence and leaves an unarmed black teenager dead. The shooter, a middle-aged white male, claimed it was self-defense, and a community is left forever divided. The chilling comparisons to the Trayvon Martin shooting, and countless other for that matter, are as unavoidable as the questions about race these incidents stir up.
3 1/2 Minutes, Ten Bullets is not interested in fanning the scorching racial flames that burn brightly in America, but rather offers a somber and thought-provoking examination of the laws which seem to add kerosene to the inferno.
On the evening of Friday, November 23, 2012, seventeen-year-old Jordan Davis and his friends made a pit stop to buy cigarettes at a gas station in Jacksonville, Florida. The music blaring from their car got the attention of forty-five-year-old Michael Dunn, who was waiting for his fiancée, Rhonda Rouer, in a neighbouring vehicle. Annoyed by the volume of the “thug music”, or “rap crap” as he later claimed he called it, Dunn requested that the music be turned down. As a war of words broke out, Dunn, fearing for his life after allegedly being threatened and seeing a weapon, reached for his gun and fired off ten bullets at the vehicle Davis was in.
Convinced he acted in self-defense, the foundation of Dunn’s claims begin to show cracks when investigators are unable to find any evidence of a firearm in the young men’s vehicle. Furthermore, Rouer admitted that she never heard Dunn mention a weapon until the morning after, despite his claims that he repeatedly told her there was one.
Providing an in-depth look at the court proceedings surrounding the murder trial, Silver crafts a powerful exploration of the dangers that the “Stand Your Ground” laws presents. Designed to protect those who use violence as a last line of defense, when they feel that their life is being threatened, the law has become a beneficial tool for trigger happy white males who assume black males pose an inherent threat simply because of the colour of their skin.
While Dunn’s lawyers claimed that this was an issue about loud music and not race, Silver’s film does not buy into such simple excuses. 3 1/2 Minutes, Ten Bullets offers an intricate look at how the law is a symptom – albeit a powerful one – of a systemic problem within America. The boys where instantly deemed as “thugs,” the new N-word as Davis’ friend remarks, simply because they were black and listened to rap music. They were by all accounts decent kids from good families and had no history of violence. Their biggest crime was the entitlement they felt to play their music loudly.
In fact, the most disturbing thing about the whole situation is that Dunn honestly believed that he was the real victim in all of this. In a phone conversation to Rouer, Dunn compared himself to a rape victim who was being shamed for wearing a skimpy dress.
Although Silver’s film does lean slightly toward the Davis camp, the audience gets to spend time with the victim’s grieving parents and friends, while they only get Dunn’s side in court, to its credit, 3 1/2 Minutes, Ten Bullets tries its best to present the facts, and emotions, as fairly as it can. It would have been easy for Silver to simply pull at viewer’s the heartstrings, or manipulate the information to the point that it becomes heavy-handed. Instead, it is through Silver’s restraint that film manages to incite within the viewer feelings of anger and pity for all involved.
Is 3 1/2 Minutes, Ten Bullets a timely film? Indeed. However, when has this subject matter not been important? While it would be nice if society reached a point where these types of stories no longer speak to the way America is, but rather the way America was, that day is still far away. As such, it is important to have voices like Silver not only holding up a mirror to the realities of modern America, but also provoking sobering discussions on the laws that, like an anchor tied to the country’s feet, inadvertently hinders progress when it comes to the issue of race.