“You were supposed to protect him.”
Barely five minutes into the HBO documentary 3 ½ Minutes, 10 Bullets, director Marc Silver depicts Jordan Davis’s parents, Lucia McBath and Ron Davis, having a conversation at the kitchen table. Davis is, of course, the 17-year-old Jacksonville, Florida, teen who was shot and killed during a disagreement at a gas station on Black Friday 2012. As the two recount a story of how Jordan’s name came about – “if it was a girl, [Ron] was going to name him, and if it was a boy, I was going to name him,” McBath recalled – McBath suddenly utters the above words to Ron Davis. And all Mr. Davis can say back is, “I know.”
The documentary 3 ½ Minutes, 10 Bullets, which premiered last year on HBO, has no shortage of emotionally charged scenes like these. The film follows the trial of Michael Dunn – the shooter – and mostly is told from the perspective of Jordan’s parents, while also exploring Dunn’s backstory.
Silver interweaves audio of Dunn’s conversations while in prison with his now ex-wife Phyllis Austin, and the courtroom scenes of Austin recalling that fateful day in the parking lot elicit sympathy without question. It is much more difficult to feel sympathy for Dunn. Though his exchanges with Phyllis are earnest and sometimes emotional, his testimony drips of privilege and racism. The remorse in Dunn’s dialogue doesn’t seem to be because he regrets killing Jordan but, rather, because he regrets how rapidly his life has changed. In one of the recordings, for example, Dunn insists to Phyllis that he is innocent and that Davis’s friends, the “thugs,” are the real criminals. He cites a YouTube video of Jordan’s friend Leland rapping, saying, “I’m the victim here and they’re on the internet looking like gangsters.”
In lieu of a first person account from Jordan Davis himself, Marc Silver uses the voices of people who knew him best to paint a picture of the belated boy. He introduces Jordan’s two friends, Leland and Tevin, both of whom were in the car with Jordan when Dunn fired his gun multiple times. In spite of the tragic circumstances, humor emerges in some of these interviews. Leland, for example, recalls how Jordan was the epitome of effort but a terrible athlete. “He was the worst basketball player ever,” Leland says with a chuckle, “but he always wanted to stay out there and keep shooting.”
Lucia McBath, Jordan’s mother, is a prayerful, religious woman. But Silver deserves credit for not allowing McBath to appear the “strong Black woman” at all times: though McBath’s resilience is admirable, Silver also shows her in vulnerable moments, bursting into tears as she remembers her son and expresses fear that the jury won’t return a guilty verdict. Ron Davis, as well, challenges stereotypes of black men. He is a visibly broken man, just trying to get through the days without his son, and is not himself immune to sudden instances of crying. Indeed, 3 ½ Minutes concludes with Ron Davis watching a phone video of Jordan and his friends rapping and talking in the car, and Ron can’t help but to wipe his eyes.
It’s chilling to watch Dunn’s lawyer attempt to discredit Jordan’s friends and justify what happened. It’s well-known that it was loud hip-hop music being played that prompted Dunn to issue his warning and then fire his weapon into Leland’s vehicle. But Dunn insists that he feared for his life, arguing that he thought he saw a “barrel” (even though no gun was found in the vehicle), and that was enough (per Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law) for him to reach into his glove compartment and start shooting without warning. Dunn’s lawyer repeatedly tells the press that this case is, “not a race thing,” and yet everything in Dunn’s language – especially when he is testifying – contradicts that.
We know how this story ends, of course. In the first trial, Dunn is found guilty of all counts by the jury except one – the biggest one, second-degree murder. But when he is tried again, Dunn is found guilty of that as well, and sentenced to life in prison. After the verdict is pronounced, Silver shows McBath in a prayer circle – one that her attorney joins – thanking God for his mercy throughout the proceedings.
3 ½ Minutes, 10 Shots is not for the faint of heart. Though only 90 minutes long, its portrayal of grief will linger like a sore, or a scar, long after it has ended. Marc Silver’s film depicts the rare instance when justice is served, and when Black lives really do appear to matter as much as anyone and everyone else’s.