Why Darnella Frazier Is the Most Influential Filmmaker of the Century (Guest Blog)
The most influential filmmaker of the century may turn out to be an untrained 17-year-old you probably haven’t heard of: Darnella Frazier.
Not only did she happen upon a unique moment in history — the killing of George Floyd on a Minneapolis street corner in the twilight hours of May 25 — but she recorded it in a single-take shot that could upstage the memorable work of A-list Hollywood directors.
America is on fire in the week since she posted her 10 minutes, six second video on her Facebook page at 2:26 a.m. on the morning after Floyd’s death. Since that moment, millions of Americans have begun protesting police brutality nationwide, Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin has been fired and charged with murder while his three fellow officers were charged with aiding and abetting. And President Donald Trump has been running from his White House bunker to pose with a Bible outside a church.
But not enough respect been paid to Frazier and the incredible craftsmanship she displayed in recording this tragedy for posterity. Using her iPhone with a 2x optical zoom, Frazier subtly moved within a chaotic tableau to capture the last gasps of Floyd, and, only when called for, panned her camera away from Floyd to capture the dismay of onlookers. She caught the utter mystery of the stoic Chauvin, and the minute adjustments of his knee-to-neck chokehold on Floyd. Her hand was steady as these onlookers and Tou Thao, Chauvin’s sidekick/human traffic cone, occasionally blocked her view of Floyd and Chauvin. Ultimately, Frazier found a way to keep Frazier’s face in her frame — even when she had a mere six-inch-wide sight line — right up until the time paramedics carted Floyd off.
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And she did it all in one take — the kind of showy cinematographic work that has earned fame for Orson Welles in “Touch of Evil,” Martin Scorsese in “Goodfellas” and Alfonso Cuarón in “Children of Men.” What would have happened if Frazier had checked out for a five-second break, especially in the first seven minutes and 40 seconds of her video that caught Chauvin grinding Floyd into unconsciousness before he took his knee off Floyd’s neck? The answer is simple: The gap in the video would result in the cry of “Fake news!”
Of course, Frazier is not going to get an Academy Award for her film. But even in the pantheon of famous citizen journalists, I worry there is an obstacle in Frazier joining the ranks of the late Abraham Zapruder, who filmed the 1963 assassination of President John F. Kennedy, and George Holliday, who captured the 1991 baton-party beating of Rodney King by Los Angeles police.
Zapruder was a white male, as is Holliday. Zapruder and his estate have been paid over $16 million in fees for a simple left-to-right pan of the presidential motorcade and Holliday is still licensing his point-and-shoot King video on his website almost 30 years later.
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I worry that Frazier, who was the right citizen journalist at the right time, will not be recognized for her footage that showed America just how little things have changed for black citizens. In the short run, she just might be shunted aside like Ramsey Orta, the half-black, half-Puerto Rican man who courageously taped his friend Eric Garner’s “I can’t breathe” death on Staten Island in 2014, and has claimed claimed a pattern of harassment in prison while serving a four-year sentence on gun and drug charges.
Caveat: More video evidence of the Floyd killing is emerging daily, from police body-cam footage to security-camera recordings from businesses near the incident. And Frazier did not capture the actions of the other two indicted officers at the death scene, nor the immediate moments before Floyd was pinned to the pavement.
Since posting the video, news reports suggest that Frazier has received her share of hate. But even if White America goes back to sleep when it comes to Black Lives Matter, even if another white cop turns off his or her body camera during a violent encounter with a suspect, Frazier’s video will live on…and on…and on as the most irrefutable evidence of a ghastly killing.
As long as the human eye can recognize an image, Frazier’s name must not be forgotten.
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