Did You Wonder Who Fired the Gun? 2017
Distributed by Grasshopper Film, 12 East 32nd St., 4th Floor, New York, NY 10016
Produced by Travis Wilkerson
Directed by Travis Wilkerson
DVD , color, 88 min.
Middle School - General Adult
Family, Family Relations, Family History, African-Americans, Criminal Justice
Date Entered: 07/23/2018Reviewed by Christopher Lewis, American University Library, American University
Travis Wilkerson brings an artist’s touch to this exceptional autobiographical documentary about growing up under the shadow of a racist white grandfather who went uncharged in the murder of Bill Spann, a black man, in Dothan. Alabama in 1946. He demonstrates an acute personal sensitivity about the implications of such an event – whereby his family remains privileged and untouched while the victim’s family, like so many others of that period, is torn apart.
Wilkerson’s shame from being descended from A.E. Branch is palpable and it is widely shared in his family though not by his aunt, Jean. Quite stunningly, she evolved from a young woman interested in folk music and civil rights to become active in a white nationalist movement and has developed her own justification for her father’s murder of Spann.
The story is beautifully woven with gripping imagery and music and interviews with several relatives and residents of Dothan from the era. The narrative also reflects on Atticus Finch, the beloved fictional lawyer from Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, and how the author later revealed her original conception of him as a flawed man with racist beliefs.
The fact that such a gifted visual storyteller happened to have such a tragic event in his family history gives this work a depth that is hard to convey in writing.
The work is tonal and an unusual style of documentary filmmaking. It is gradual in its unfolding but its effect is staggering. It is a fascinating piece and highly recommended