×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

In All-Too-Familiar Narrative Between Police and Black Men, a Powerful Voice Emerges With Philando Castile Video

It is difficult to find words in the aftermath of yet another police shooting of a black man caught on video; it is especially difficult in the aftermath of two such incidents, occurring within about 48 hours of each other.

Early Tuesday morning in Baton Rouge, La., Alton Sterling was shot and killed by two officers who are, in video footage released to the media by activist bystanders, pinning him firmly to the ground. And Wednesday evening, in Falcon Heights, Minn., Philando Castile was shot and killed by a police officer during a traffic stop over a busted taillight. Immediately following the shooting, Castile’s girlfriend, Diamond Reynolds, began live-streaming on Facebook Live, capturing his last few seconds of consciousness.

Watching these videos is itself fraught — it is difficult to separate the spectacle of death in them from the crucial information they contain. Actor and rapper Ice-T echoed the words of other black activists when he named Reynolds’ video “Another COP snuff film.” In this video-saturated culture, this is an important conversation—one that encompasses both the right to broadcast and the right to privacy, on social media platforms that will autoplay videos in your timeline or attempt to segue from one awful thing to more “related content.” (The images are unavoidable, too: Just as the New York Daily News took an image of Sterling and made it the splashy front page of this morning’s issue, the image of Castile’s white shirt soaked through with his blood as he collapses in the driver’s seat might well be unavoidable in the next few days.)

We are a viewing audience all too used to pulpy gore and CGI. And given how little change has occurred, on a practical policy level, following the outcry over dozens of these videos, it’s hard to not side with the activists who implore us to stop watching, to allow these victims of police violence their last few minutes of dignity. If this were fiction, I would charge the producers with exploitative violence, because over and over again in this far too populated “genre,” the victims are denied any story except their gruesome and state-sanctioned death.

But Reynolds’ video is different. It does not end with Castile’s body. In an awe-inspiring expression of dedication to getting the story out, she continues to broadcast for just over nine minutes. She begins to grieve for Castile on-screen, describes the incident on-screen, and confronts the cop on-screen: “Please, Jesus lord, don’t tell me that he’s gone. Please don’t tell me that he’s gone. Please, officer, don’t tell me you just did this to him. You shot four bullets into him, sir.”

She keeps filming as she is shouted at to step out of the car and keep her hands up; her phone is taken from her and, apparently, tossed away a short distance. She continues to speak into the phone, addressing the unseen audience as “Facebook,” as the camera uselessly films a cornflower blue evening sky, and some power lines crossing on the diagonal. Sirens can be heard, and the words of the police officers. One, presumably the shooter, is shouting curses. The camera goes black for several minutes, but continues to record audio. Reynolds’ voice is the clearest, the loudest. She is grieving, in pain. When the visuals return, the camera finds the face of Reynolds’ 4-year-old daughter, who was reportedly in the backseat during the shooting. The little girl’s high-pitched, confused concern for her mother cuts through the background noise.

Reynolds, and her daughter, used the camera to take back the narrative of what happened to them and what happened to Philando Castile. It is horrifying that they needed to do so, but by continuing to record, this video is so different than one of the aforementioned “snuff films.” It is her voice, and her perspective, and her face that becomes the center of the narrative — not a dead body, but a living one; not the story of uniforms overpowering the unarmed, but of the unarmed that are still standing. It is the type of counter-programming that uses the camera to its most fundamental purpose — to provide not just the narrative but the alternative narrative; the other side of the story.

More Digital

  • Netflix - Apple TV

    Netflix Turns in Record Q4 Subscriber Gains, Price Increase Weighs on U.S. Forecast

    Netflix is beating Wall Street expectations on international subscriber growth — but its recently announced price increase in the U.S. may have put a damper on its momentum in the States. For the fourth quarter of 2018, Netflix reported 1.53 million paid net adds in the U.S. and 7.31 million internationally, to end the year [...]

  • Bird Box

    'Bird Box' Has Been Watched by 80 Million Subscribers, Netflix Says

    Netflix used its Q4 2018 earnings report Thursday to give us a rare update on some of its audience numbers: The company estimates that its horror-thriller “Bird Box” will be viewed by over 80 million member households in the first four weeks following its release. “We are seeing high repeat viewing,” company executives wrote in [...]

  • Crackle Latin America

    Sony Shuts Down Crackle Latin America Business

    Sony Pictures Television is folding the Crackle Latin America subscription VOD service, which has 400,000 subscribers across 17 countries, after concluding the business isn’t economically viable. Crackle Latin America first launched in April 2012 as an ad-supported streaming service — like the U.S. version of Crackle — before switching in 2016 to a subscription video-on-demand [...]

  • Google Home entryway

    NPR Has Turned 'Wait Wait... Don’t Tell Me' Into a Game for Smart Speakers

    NPR has turned its popular “Wait Wait… Don’t Tell Me!” news quiz show into an interactive game for smart speakers: Owners of speakers powered by Google’s Assistant or Amazon Alexa will be able to play along to questions about the news of the week. Just like the radio show, the quiz is being hosted by [...]

  • WARNING: Embargoed for publication until 00:00:01

    BritBox Subscribers Hit Half a Million

    The number of subscribers to BritBox has hit 500,000, the streaming service said Thursday. The platform, launched as a collaboration between BBC Studios and ITV, is designed to offer U.S. and Canadian viewers the best of recent and classic British television content. The streaming service launched in the U.S. in March 2017 with a host of [...]

  • Andy Yeatman - Moonbug

    Andy Yeatman, Former Netflix Head of Kids Content, Lands at Startup Moonbug (EXCLUSIVE)

    Andy Yeatman has joined children’s entertainment startup Moonbug Entertainment to oversee North America operations, after he exited Netflix a little over a year ago. Moonbug, dual-headquartered in London and L.A., has set out on a mission to acquire “fun and safe” kids’ entertainment properties and develop new content and businesses based on them. Yeatman, as head [...]

  • Sony Innovation Fund Invests in Location

    Sony Invests in Geolocation Startup Used to Shoot ‘Ready Player One’

    Sony’s venture capital arm, the Sony Innovation Fund, has invested in London-based What3words, a geolocation startup that aims to provide human-readable and easily shareable names for each and every location on the planet. What3words was previously used to share locations for the production of Steven Spielberg’s “Ready Player One,” and has also had cameos in [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content