Today saw the execution of Troy Davis by the State of Georgia, despite a questionable court case and Amnesty International securing nearly 1 million signatures for the ‘Too Much Doubt’ petition on his behalf.
What more could have been done?
News coverage and social media today have unprecedented power in persuading the masses and generating action. It is apt, however, to think back 23 years when Errol Morris’s documentary The Thin Blue Line (1988) resulted in the exoneration of a man on death row falsely accused of shooting a policeman – the memory of which lurks behind the Troy Davis case.
In the decades Davis spent in prison, his story was not subject to any such innovative cinematic representation that may or may not have led to a court’s reconsideration of their verdict. It could be said that his alleged shooting of a police officer in a Burger King parking lot deserved a detailed Morris-style reenactment complete with flying take-away milkshakes, as it is precisely Georgia’s rejection of the small, conflicting details in the evidence that has led to an execution despite reasonable doubt.
With the case now over, there is likely to be a line-up of filmmakers ready to tackle the American justice system. Once an issue has acquired high profile support ranging from P. Diddy to Pope Benedict XVI, it is clear that a few films are going to get made.
The first of these documentaries, Terry L. Benedict’s The Death of Reasonable Doubt, already appears to be in-progress. Whether any films will engage with the events as subversively and cinematically as Errol Morris will become clear with time.
In his Anti-Post-Modern Post-Modernist lecture, Morris recalls his experience with The Thin Blue Line:
“I . . . liked the idea that I had done everything wrong, and I actually, in the process of doing everything wrong, had accumulated real evidence. Sections of the movie were submitted as evidence in federal and state court. There are moments in these interviews that made the difference between this man spending the rest of his life in prison and his release from prison.”
Was documentary representation, then, one of the things the Troy Davis case could have benefited from? Or is there no point in crying over spilt milk[shake]?