When Sybrina Fulton was asked to return to Sanford, Florida, the city where her son Trayvon Martin was fatally shot in 2012, she remembers refusing.
“I’m never coming there,” she says in the new documentary series Rest in Power: The Trayvon Martin Story. Fulton could barely brush her teeth or comb her hair — how could they ask her to set foot where her son died?
But then something changed inside her. That transformation is documented in the first episode of Rest in Power, thanks to footage from her sister’s phone.
“I don’t want this to be swept under the rug,” she says. “I want people to be aware of what’s going on.”
The highly anticipated series, produced by Jay-Z (aka Shawn Carter) as well as Trayvon Martin’s parents, tracks American race relations starting with Martin’s death up to our present moment with the rise of Donald Trump and white nationalism. The series is based on a book Martin’s parents wrote and published together last year called Rest in Power: The Enduring Life of Trayvon Martin.
The series’ release comes six years after the death of Martin, who was 17 and unarmed when he was shot by George Zimmerman. Charged with second-degree murder, Zimmerman was ultimately acquitted on self-defense grounds, a decision that sparked the Black Lives Matter movement in 2013. The documentary explores how the case unfolded as well as subsequent the backlash against Black Lives Matter activism.
“We wanted to show people how laws are written, what is the motivation behind these laws, and who they benefit.”
The phrase “” is a term used to describe deaths that are considered unjust, and which may give rise to a protest or social justice movement. The film Rest in Power focuses on “” laws, which were the basis of Zimmerman’s legal defense. Such laws, which are on the books in , give a person the right to use “deadly force” if they reasonably believe their life is threatened.
Though the documentary series is poetic and emotional, it’s also thoroughly educational.
“We were given an opportunity to dig deep into Trayvon Martin’s story and show the context around his trial,” says Julia Willoughby Nason, an executive producer and co-director of the series. “We wanted to show people how laws are written, what is the motivation behind these laws, and who they benefit.”
When and how do I watch it?
The documentary series is airing on Paramount Network and the BET website. Paramount lets you stream it for free, though there are advertisements. For BET, you have to be subscribed to a cable network that includes the channel in subscription. You can then use your cable login to gain access to the full episode on the BET website.
The first episode aired on Monday, July 30th at 10:00 p.m. ET. The remaining five hourlong episodes will air every Monday night through September 3, 2018.
What role did Trayvon Martin’s parent’s play in the film?
Sybrina Fulton and Tracy Martin were integral parts of the documentary. Not only is the film is based on their book, but it’s largely narrated from their point of view. In the film, Fulton and Martin share memories of their son, explain how they felt when they learned of his death, and outline their reasons for becoming activists.
It’s perhaps this element — the directors’ decision to center Martin’s parents and family — that makes the film so powerful.
Who are the filmmakers?
Julia Willoughby Nason and Jenner Furst co-directed the film. The two worked together before on Time: The Kalief Browder Story, a Netflix film about a 16-year-old African-American boy who spent three years in jail despite never being convicted of a crime. A full list of their work is available through The Cinemart, a creative firm Nason and Furst started together.
In an interview with the New York Times, Jay-Z explained that his interest in the film stemmed from his belief that the problems that led to Martin’s death are still not well understood.
“People have to really see this,” he said. “They have to see it again and they have to see it with facts and details, because people don’t really believe it. Until the world believes it and everyone gets involved, it’s going to be a black problem.”
Is it just about Trayvon Martin?
Yes and no. The series draws a loving portrait of Martin, but it’s also about a larger constellation of people affected by and involved in his trial and its aftermath.
It’s about his parents and family members; the Sanford, Florida, police department; the National Rifle Association lobbyists who wrote “stand your ground” into law; the civil rights lawyers who strategically used the media to bring public attention to the case; the reporters who documented the Zimmerman trial and rise of Black Lives Matter protests; and, the broader political landscape, including Obama-era optimism on race relations followed by the rise of Trump and white nationalism.
Rest in Power is not a biography but rather a history. It uses Martin’s individual story to talk about the larger question of 21st century race relations in America.
What has happened since?
Following Martin’s death there have been numerous murders of black Americans, particularly by law enforcement, whose killers weren’t held responsible for their actions. Those cases include the deaths of Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Walter Scott, and Freddie Gray.
Most recently, there is the case of Markeis McGlockton who was fatally shot by a white man in a Florida outside a convenience store after an altercation about a parking space. Like Zimmerman, McGlockton’s killer, Michael Drejka, appears to be using the Stand Your Ground law as his defense.
Benjamin Crump, the civil rights attorney who represented Martin’s family in the Zimmerman case, and who plays a central role in the film, is currently pushing for the Department of Justice to investigate the McGlockton case.
What can I do to help?
If the film leaves you feeling outraged, there are specific things you can do to address gun violence and combat structural racism in the America. Here are some suggestions:
1. Volunteer with or donate to the Trayvon Martin Foundation. Started by Martin’s parents and brother, Jahvaris Fulton, the organization aims to bring an end to preventable gun violence through education and empowerment programs. For example, two branches of the foundation include the “Circle of Mothers” and the “Circle of Fathers,” which help parents who have lost a child to violence through their coping and healing process.
2. Donate to Lucy McBath’s congressional campaign for Georgia’s 6th district. McBath is the mother of Jordan Davis, who was shot and killed in a gas station in Jacksonville, Florida, the same year that Martin was killed. Since losing her son, McBath has taken an active stance against Stand Your Ground laws.
3. Donate to Shaun King’s campaign, Real Justice. Real Justice is a political action committee raising funds to elect prosecutors who are committed to ending structural racism. District attorneys are extraordinarily powerful elected officials in the U.S. They oversee police department practices and can limit or eliminate the practice of money bail.
4. Find out if your local representatives support “Stand Your Ground” laws. Even if they don’t specifically, the state they represent might. Here’s a link that lists the states with a Stand Your Ground law or similarly worded laws that have removed the duty to retreat.
5. VOTE VOTE VOTE: You may watch Rest in Power and feel that the problem of structural racism is so ingrained in our legal system and so widespread in our culture that it’s impossible to dismantle. But change is possible, and you can start with the midterm elections, which are less than 100 days away.
In addition to her hope that it informs the public and inspires people to take action, Nason was explicit about the role emotion plays in the film.
“We are being overloaded with bad news and it’s leaving people numb,” she said. “To get people into action, we have to break that numbness.”