Of the many recent police abuse cases against black men that have gone to trial in the past few years, the Eric Garner chokehold case stands out as being particularly brutal. Under the suspicion that Garner was selling single, untaxed cigarettes, New York police officers took him down and put him in a chokehold while arresting him. Garner—who can be heard in videos of the incident repeatedly stating that he couldn’t breathe—was killed in the incident. A grand jury decided not to indict the police officers involved.
The forthcoming film, American Trial, explores what might have happened if the case had proceeded differently. The film itself isn’t so much a traditional, narrative movie as it is a “mock trial.” The trial will include real-life witnesses, examinations of actual evidence and will “star” real lawyers. Even Garner’s actual wife will have some time onscreen. The film will work as a reexamination of all the facts in the case to see if a different outcome might be reached.
Executive producer Ralph Richardson told THR:
I feel it’s important to make this Eric Garner film at this time to keep blatant injustice of our imperfect system front and center in people’s minds. This film is about Eric Garner, but it’s also about the systemic issue of the police brutality of men of color. If this Eric Garner film can help create change for the better, I think we will all benefit from it.
It’s an intriguing concept and—if successful—could open up an entire new genre of film. It feels similar to documentary films like The Thin Blue Line or Netflix’s popular Making a Murderer series, which explore a case’s evidence after the fact. The former resulted in a re-trial and subsequent release of a previously convicted murderer. Who knows if American Trial will have any similar impact?
The film is directed by Roee Messinger. Alena Svyatova is producing, with Ralph Richardson, James Jenkins and Eboni K. Williams serving as executive producers. It is currently in production in New York City, but they have yet to receive all of their funding for the film. Click here to learn more and potentially contribute.
Here are a few onset photos of Messinger giving final instructions between takes of Esaw Snipes-Garner’s (Garner’s widow) scene with attorneys Steve Raiser and Thomas Kenniff, who portray the prosecutors.
Update, 6/12: A previous version of this story stated incorrectly that the police officers who arrested Garner were acquitted by a jury.