In Montgomery County, Georgia, racism and the "old ways" are still a prominent aspect of their society. People wave the Confederate flag along side the American flag and up until a few years ago, their proms were segregated. Gillian Laub, director, had put together a visual piece for the NY Times revealing the segregated proms, which eventually led to extreme pressure to end the tradition. During her time in the Southern county taking photos, Laub stumbled upon an even deeper racial issue, the death of Justin Patterson.
Justin Patterson (22) was shot and killed in 2011 by Norman Neesmith (62) . Justin and his younger brother (18) entered Neesmith’s house in the early hours of the night without Norman’s permission. The two boys quietly met up with Norman’s daughter and her friend. The boys brought alcohol, drugs and Justin’s younger brother was having sexual relations with the other girl who happened to be only 14 years old.
Norman caught the boys and rightfully so, became infuriated. There was a scuffle and an argument which eventually led to Norman taking his gun and shooting at the boys as they ran out of his house, wounding and killing Justin.
Was the shooting fueled by racism, or was Norman is his right to protect himself, his adopted daughter and his home from intruders?
What I loved: I did enjoy a few things about the documentary. The doc was filmed with a creative eye and there were many shots of the beautiful landscape and rural scenery.
Also, it was interesting seeing real photographs of segregation in the South from years ago. Although the nature of the photographs was unfortunate, it was still enlightening to see unique pictures from our country’s past.
I’m glad there were two main stories as well. I think if the documentary was only about Norman and Justin, I would have been bored beyond belief. The other plot line was the perfect complement to this story.
What I didn’t: I am nowhere near being a professional journalist or reporter, however, I did go to college and obtained a degree in the field. Due to my education, I am able to pick apart the reporting style in this documentary. Laub does a satisfactory job interviewing several people on both sides of the case, however, she absolutely fails in regards to interviewing unbiased members of the community. She only features Justin’s family or Norman and his supporters. She does not bother to interview citizens that have no relation to either individual. I think that is a crucial aspect lacking in this investigative piece.
Also, I don’t feel all the facts were presented in a clear and concise way. There were several instances when a court testimony revealed different facts compared to what had been said during interviews. I finished the film not fully understanding the exact events that had unfolded.
Lastly, and without giving away any spoilers, I thought what the documentary was missing the most was more conversation about WHY Justin was in Norman’s house to begin with. People only talked about the horrors of his death, but failed to even mention why he he had put himself in a inappropriate situation . His parents neglected to see Justin’s actions for what they were and ignored his severely poor judgment and immaturity. Why was Justin at Norman's house and not at home taking care of his 3 year old child? Why did the Pattersons not instill proper values and beliefs into their children? So many ethical questions and no answers.