With “Rest in Power: Trayvon Martin”, the documentary that is executive produced by Jay Z, the viewer revisits a traumatic occurrence that speed-slapped Americans out of the erroneous post-racial narrative that was floated around following the election of Barack Obama as the first Black man to sit in the Oval Office.
The six-part docu-series, which kicked off with the opening episode on Monday night, follows the heartbreaking story of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin’s murder at the hands of George Zimmerman, and its resulting aftermath.
It flows from the senseless shooting and Zimmerman’s eventual acquittal through more recent times of societal tumult along racial lines. It provides further proof of the racism that was inherent in the demonizing of a murdered black child, and the humanizing of the cowardly, racist adult who shot him after instigating an altercation.
Martin was profiled, hunted and killed simply because he was African-American. It was a moment of extreme trauma and dismay, added onto the countless stains of the temporal brick road along with the innumerable injustices that were visited upon our ancestors.
When my editor reached out to write about you, she reminded me that February 26 marks two years since your untimely death at the hands of George Zimmerman. To be certain Trayvon, I was initially pained at the coming of this assignment.
Trauma and static injustice have long helped foster solidarity in disenfranchised groups along religious, racial and ethnic lines. Even America’s Star Spangled Banner is filled with references to battle and triumph over an enemy.
For Black people in America, trauma is the de facto notary stamp on a very large portion of our artistic and creative output.
Following the release of the 911 tapes, Trayvon Martin’s story led to a polarized country.
As most can recall, then-President Obama took to the television airwaves and thousands took to the streets in protest after Zimmerman was acquitted. According to Politifact, 75 unarmed black men have been shot and killed by police in America since 2015.
Meanwhile, the current President and his appointed cronies have sided with white supremacists against public interests since being elected to office two years ago. This only strengthens claims of judicial miscarriage that were levied at Zimmerman’s trial and immediately thereafter.
For many, George Zimmerman has been a malignancy. His very freedom is a living monument to American white privilege, judicial maleficence, and how black lives are consistently deemed void in the face of justice, despite tons of evidence to the contrary.
Directors Jenner Furst and Julia Willoughby Nason, who previously teamed up on the Peabody Award-winning “Time: The Kalief Browder Story,” which was also produced by Jay Z and another offering about criminal justice and systematic racism, wanted to expose the vile forces that allowed for a not-guilty verdict and provide Trayvon’s parents the opportunity to share their story.
The docu-series was inspired in large part by the 2017 book “Rest in Power: The Enduring Life of Trayvon Martin” by Sybrina Fulton and Tracy Martin, Trayvon’s parents.
We have a chance to take this series and use what the country has learned from Trayvon Martin, both the positive and the negative backlash, to [understand] the Trayvon Martin to Donald Trump syndrome of America,” Furst told the New York Times.
As was to be expected, the events of Trayvon’s death make up the core of the opening episode. However, the filmmakers seem poised in future installments to flesh it out while explaining it within the context of the broader political spectrum.
This is part of The Shadow League’s Black History Month In Focus series celebrating Black excellence in sports and culture. James Baldwin has been dead for over 30 years. I kept telling myself that as the words, images and thoughts of the essayist, author and thinker James Baldwin flickered across the screen of the new documentary, I Am Not Your Negro, directed by Raoul Peck.
“Trayvon Martin came from a middle-class family where black and white people could identify with him,” said Nayson. “At the same time in 2012, social media was becoming a platform where young people could have a voice, they could record the injustice. So I think those two elements helped bring Trayvon Martin’s story to the forefront.”
“It was a turning point in the country,” Furst said. “You had the first African American president and you had some people foolishly saying that we were living in a post-racial America. And when Trayvon Martin was killed, it was an awakening for a lot of people that certain things hadn’t changed and that there was going to be far more Trayvon Martin’s than Barack Obama’s. And that realization, that pain, that sense of injustice motivated a lot of people to act, and it changed the landscape of our country.”
Part two of documentary airs next Monday, August 6th at 10:00 PM on The Paramount Network.