On November 23, 2012, at approximately 7:40 p.m. in Jacksonville, Florida, Michael David Dunn gunned down Jordan Davis at a Gate Gas convenience store parking lot. The dispute was over the loud music emanating from the vehicle Davis was in, but shootings like these are never about what they’re about. Davis was a 17-year-old black teen, and Dunn was a 45-year-old white software engineer, and if the shooting was about anything, it was about race. A mere nine months after George Zimmerman shot and killed Trayvon Martin for similar reasons, the Davis/Dunn shooting echoed that which could no longer be called incidents but an alarming trend.
The particulars of the shooting are surprisingly clear: Dunn pulled into the Gate Gas so his fiancée, Rhonda Rouer, could purchase a bottle of wine. Dunn parked his car next to the red SUV Davis and his three friends were sitting in, listening to music loudly. Dunn asked the teens to turn the music down. Davis became vocally hostile toward Dunn. Dunn reached for his gun, fired 10 shots into the SUV, and killed Davis while narrowly missing the other three. When Dunn was questioned by the police, he explained that he thought Davis was going for a shotgun and feared for his life.
“It was a barrel,” Dunn tells the officers. “Could have a been a stick…”
“Could it have been your imagination?” the officer asks.
No weapon or stick was found in the red suburban, but that sadly does not factor into the court proceedings. Florida’s stand-your-ground law allows for the use of force, even deadly force, when a threat is perceived. That word is where things get awfully murky, and when racial tensions are this hot, Travyon Martin is gunned down because he wore a hoodie, and Jordan Davis is gunned down because he mouthed off and turned his music up. Or, as Dunn claims to call it, “rap crap.” But the defense and Rouer alleged that Dunn called it “thug music.” The difference between the two is crucial; “rap crap” denotes a distaste for genre, “thug music” carries a much heavier, and ultimately racial, connotation.
This racial connotation is precisely where 3½ Minutes, 10 Bullets draws its context. Director Marc Silver’s documentary follows the Davis/Dunn trial—and mainly the court proceedings as cameras were allowed in the room—siding entirely with the Davis family while incorporating testimonies and a smattering of talk radio callers who attempt to rationalize the problem with stand-your-ground.
3½ Minutes is not an objective documentary, and it doesn’t pretend to be. The deck is stacked against Dunn from minute one, mostly due to Dunn’s behavior, testimony, and a couple of recorded phone calls from prison that reveal a side of Dunn that he may not have suppressed successfully. Silver expertly crafts his doc with nail-biting suspense and third-act revelations, the biggest one coming from Rouer’s testimony, which painfully alludes to a side to Dunn that has existed all along.
The result is a powerful piece that explores hypocrisy as much as it does the casualness of racism that exists on a day-to-day basis—one shot of a Florida beach where Davis’s girlfriend is being interviewed shows a white woman walking with a Confederate flag bikini on. As the judge who presides over the case reminds the courtroom, there are no winners here, only losers, and by the end, everyone has lost far too much.
3½ Minutes, 10 Bullets (2015)
Written and directed by: Marc Silver
Produced by: Carolyn Hepburn, Minette Nelson
Participant Media, Not Rated, Running time 98 minutes, Opens July 3, 2015.