SXSW Film: Righteously poignant ‘Stranger Fruit’ dissects racial tension and humanizes Michael Brown


Perhaps the most upsetting film screening at SXSW this year is Stranger Fruit, a deeply felt and emotional look into the murder of Missouri teenager Michael Brown by a police officer, and the injustice committed that led to the rise of a global protest movement.

It is a righteously angry film that attempts to rend the veil concealing the white boys’ club that is protected officer Darren Wilson from prosecution, and prevented Justice from being served. And it’s one of the most incendiary, necessary documentaries in recent history that’s sure to generate an incredible amount of discussion.

I’m sure that you know the basics: An African-American teenager is unarmed and walking in the road with a friend, when a police officer pulled over and started talking with him. The details of the moments that followed have been, up until this point, under debate (and perhaps obscured by nefarious forces) but one thing remains as clear as crystal: At the end of it, Brown lay dead in the streets, Wilson’s clip empty. They left the young man in the streets for four hours in the hot sun, while Wilson was escorted away by the chief of police and cleaned Brown’s blood off his hands before an incident report was filed. A (allegedly) prejudiced attorney general and a fraternal order of former cops came to Wilson’s defense, and the matter never made it past a tampered-with grand jury. Of course, Brown is but one of many black victims of the police, and Stranger Fruit illustrates that brilliant, and also shows exactly how little things have changed since the heyday of Malcolm X, who appears in archival footage speaking like he’s here observing the injustices here is today.


Stranger Fruit succeeds wildly at undermining every aspect of the state’s (and media’s) defense of Wilson, including the unlikelihood that he actually heard anything on the police radio about Brown that afternoon, and the already much-explored autopsy report and how Brown’s wounds didn’t line up with the official story of what happened. Of course, there’s no new evidence more jaw-dropping than the uncovered footage of Brown at the infamous bodega (the one the police claimed he robbed) on the night before the shooting, selling weed to the employees and receiving a bag of cigarellos in exchange, so which he then leaves behind the counter before the store. Of course, the state knew that it would hurt their case against Brown when they then dragged him through the mud, and buried the footage and lied about its contents in the documentation. That footage has been the big story out or the festival so far, and the directors were visibly moved that major papers like the New York Times had picked it up at a pre-show introduction.

The filmmakers take pains to humanize Brown to the audience, perhaps presuming that some of the crowd that comes to this film will bring with them the baggage of biases and media-informed opinion that comes with such a widely-talked about tragedy. To paraphrase James Jones, they let us feel the lack of never having the chance to meet Brown in this life. He was just a kid, a kid not that much younger than I am, a kid who had a future and who didn’t deserve any of the shit that came to him in life and after it. He deserves justice, and I pray that, once some scandal eventually brings down Jeff Sessions, the Justice Department will take an honest look at the evidence shown in this film and brings down the hammer. Until then, Stranger Fruit will be essential viewing for those who wish to correct this wrong.

Justice for Mike Brown.

Follow Nick Johnston on Twitter @onlysaysficus and use #VanyaSXSW for all Vanyaland’s ongoing coverage at South-By-Southwest 2017.