By Maleeha Coleburn
Jay Z and the Weinstein Company are teaming up for an expansive series – including a film and a six-part TV documentary series – about the life and death of teenager Trayvon Martin.
The projects will be based on two books – Suspicion Nation: The Inside Story of the Trayvon Martin Injustice and Why We Continue to Repeat It by journalist Lisa Bloom and Rest in Power: The Enduring Life of Trayvon Martin, which was written by Martin’s parents.
Bloom wrote Suspicion Nation, in which she recounts her experience covering the trial for NBC. She looks at the mistakes the prosecutors made that caused them to lose what she describes as a “winnable case.” Rest in Power is by Martin’s parents, Sybrina Fulton and Tracy Martin. It tells a more personal story, looking at Martin’s childhood and the aftermath of his death.
The 2012 shooting of the 17-year-old sparked a national debate about racial profiling and inequities of the criminal justice system. The African-American high school student was killed by George Zimmerman, a 28-year-old mixed race Hispanic man, who was a member of the neighborhood watch in his Florida community. He claimed he shot Martin, who was unarmed, in self-defense after the two became involved in a physical altercation. Zimmerman’s acquittal on a second-degree murder charge inspired protests around the country.
In 2013, after Zimmerman was acquitted, the Black Lives Matter movement formed on social media with the use of the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter. The movement became nationally recognized for its street demonstrations following the 2014 deaths of two African Americans: Michael Brown, which resulted in protests and unrest in Ferguson, Missouri, and Eric Garner in New York City.
This documentary is important considering the demonization of Martin after his death by the media and public. The media depicted Martin as a violent gangbanger, while casting Zimmerman simultaneously as both victim and protector of the unruly street.
For Martin, and countless other black victims like him, they were as much, if not more, on trial than the person who had done the actual killing. The demonization of black men and women after their deaths is rampant. They are being tried posthumously and without PR counsel. Trivial infractions are ramped up in order to make their deaths fit the narrative of “good cop, bad criminal.”
This is Jay Z’s first project involving race and the criminal justice system in the U.S. early last month, his mini documentary series – Time: The Kalief Browder Story – about the life and death of the Bronx teen aired. Browder was arrested at age 16 for allegedly stealing a backpack and served three years at the notorious prison facility Rikers Island without being convicted. He later took his own life at age 22. It delves into the need for criminal justice and prison reform.
Jay Z has been a strong advocate in seeking justice and speaking against inequality in recent years. In 2013, he and Beyoncé participated in a rally for Martin in New York. Last year, Jay Z tackled police brutality in his protest song “Spiritual,” and his music streaming company Tidal donated $1.5 million to Black Lives Matter-related causes.
The Weinstein Company also produced Fruitvale Station, Ryan Coogler’s dramatization of the final hours of Oscar Grant, an unarmed black man shot by police on New Year’s Day 2009 in Oakland.
These projects depicting the life and death of teenager Trayvon Martin are needed commentaries to honor Martin after injustice, as well as educate the public.
Featured Photo Credit: Courtesy of WikiCommons.
Maleeha Coleburn is a freshman journalism and government and politics double major and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.