The ambition is obvious, right from the swirl of opening credits to “Rest in Power: The Trayvon Martin Story,” a six part documentary series about the “Pandora’s Box” of race, death, the relative values of human lives and the nightmare that “stand your ground” laws have brought to America.
Six years after that Oscar night shooting in Sanford, Florida, the racial schism the shooting of an unarmed 17 year-old exposed seems wider than ever, with the national “backlash” over Trayvon Martin’s shooting now running all three branches of national government.
But was there enough in this pilot, focusing most heavily on the boy’s parents, his lawyer Benjamin Crump and assorted Sanford officials and public relations specialists, to hook everybody in for the other five episodes?
The editing is dazzling, the witness list impressive and there’s plenty of cover footage of The Retreat at Twin Lakes, where the shooting occurred, the fanciest 7-11 in Sanford and the city of Sanford from across Lake Monroe.
Every day that I drive into Orlando I see the Hunter 31 sailboat anchored just shy of the city beside the Interstate 4/St. John’s River Bridge, as seen in the movie.
But this overview episode, with its outsiders-looking-in point of view, misses the mark on how big a deal this was locally before it became a national hot button story. A short montage of Martin/Zimmerman coverage from local TV is all it merits in “Rest in Power.”
Jay Z’s hired filmmakers Jenner Furst and Julia Willoughby Nason had great access to the Martin family, but put zero effort into the reporting that actually first exposed the shooting as something other than “simple self-defense.”
Yes, the attorneys the family hired pushed to get 9/11 tapes released and raised the pressure on a hapless, wrong-footed police department (heavily represented in the film, too). But where are the local journalists who drove this story before it became a cable chattering classes cause celebre?
You can have Al Sharpton, but the newspaper I used to work for was all over this thing early on. Were those intrepid reporters unavailable? All laid off and unwilling to comment? Because putting some dipstick from DC-based Politico on the earliest episode, when it was a Central Florida story, seems half-assed.
The court cases, sure, by then this shooting had become another Casey Anthony Circus, to use the other big Orlando area crime analogy. But from the get-go, this thing was covered by print reporters with access and initiative, and TV reporters competing like hell for leads in a highly-competitive top 20 TV market.
It wasn’t about Al, not for a while. It was never about Politico. I hope this changes in future installments, but the tone and reach of the piece, from Trayvon to Trump, Charlottesville and Kaepernick, suggests otherwise.
Cast: Tracey Martin, Benjamin Crump, Sybrina Fulton, Police Chief Bill Lee, Sgt. David Morganstern, Officer Christopher Serino, Mayor Jeff Triplet
Running time: 1 hour