The story of Trayvon Martin, a 17-year-old unarmed black boy shot and killed by a white man named George Zimmerman in Sanford, Fla., rocked the country and sparked the Black Lives Matter civil rights movement. A group of filmmakers, funded by Jay-Z, is looking to give Martin’s story the nuance it deserves.
“We, as Americans, have a very short memory. We tend to remember the hashtag, but not the full story,” MSBNC host Joy Reid told REVOLT TV at the red carpet premiere of Rest In Power: The Trayvon Martin Story. “I think it was important for someone to go back to the story again and organize it so that you can fully understand what happened to this child, what happened to his family, what’s wrong with the system that produced the outcome that it did.”
On Friday evening (April 20), the Tribeca Film Festival screened the first episode of Rest In Power: A Trayvon Martin Story, a documentary series set to air on Paramount Network. After the screening, MSNBC host Joy Reid moderated a panel with Martin’s parents Tracy Martin and Sybrina Fulton, co-directors/executive producers Jenner Furst and Julia Willoughby, and executive producers Chachi Senior and Michael Gasparro.
The docuseries used news clips, interviews, family photos and 911 calls to tell the story of Martin and the shooting. The first episode got into the background of Martin (his parents called him Crazy Legs as a child), his aspirations of becoming a pilot, and how being caught with a bag of marijuana residue got him suspended from school for 10 days. The episode also showed Zimmerman’s habit of repeatedly calling the police with false alarms of crime in his neighborhood.
Jenner said that the story of Trayvon Martin doesn’t simply start with Zimmerman’s killing and acquittal, but with the reasons why he was suspended from school in the first place.
“There were dogs going through his school with law enforcement officers. How many affluent white communities have german shepherds roaming through the hallways? That was the reason why he was in Sanford, Florida - because of the suspension for two weeks that was leveled on him,” Jenner said. “In Florida, where you have privatized prisons, there’s an effort to take children out of school and get them on the street where law enforcement officers can arrest them.
“Trayvon’s story isn’t just about a senseless murder; it’s about a system. It was our job to expose that system so viewers could digest it, and activate to change it.”
Furst and Willoughby first worked with Jay-Z for Time: The Kalief Browder Story, a six-part 2017 documentary series about a Bronx high school student who was imprisoned for three years, including two in solitary confinement, at the notorious Rikers Island prison complex, without ever being convicted of a crime. The film won a Peabody Award, and helped build public scrutiny that led to New York Mayor Bill de Blasio announcing a ten-year plan to close Rikers Island, a prison complex known for violence and mistreatment of its inmates.
“Jay-Z is a very compassionate partner and he understands the creative space to give artists enough flexibility to run with investigative reporting,” Willoughby said. “His power of talent really helped elevate the crowd to bring a lot of eyeballs to this story.”
Trayvon Martin’s parents hope that the visibility for this new docuseries raises awareness not only for their son, but for other people impacted by a racially unjust system.
“We want people to see that Trayvon represents so many others. You just know about a hashtag, but you don’t know their real story,” Fulton said. “That’s why it’s so important for us to tell what happened as parents. A lot of time, parents don’t have a platform. This is our way of letting people enter our life so they know what happened.”