The George Floyd Homicide Video Is Not Cinéma Vérité—WTF Is Wrong With You, Ross Johnson?

“Why Darnella Frazier Is the Most Influential Filmmaker of the Century“ by Ross Johnson
“Why Darnella Frazier Is the Most Influential Filmmaker of the Century“ by Ross Johnson
Screenshot: The Wrap

I want to Men in Black-out to the time before I saw screenshots from a piece titled, “Why Darnella Frazier Is the Most Influential Filmmaker of the Century.”

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In a guest blog at The Wrap dated June 4, communications strategist Ross Johnson proceeded to pontificate on Darnella Frazier’s video evidence of the moment George Floyd was killed by police, pulling out his best flowery film critique terms for an astonishingly grotesque moment in the 17-year-old’s life. To him, Frazier should be hailed as “the most influential filmmaker of the century” and that her “single-take shot” could “upstage the memorable work of A-list Hollywood directors.”

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My very good friend and filmmaker Darnell has a running joke that when you don’t really want to say anything bad about a film that everyone else loves, people typically just say it was “beautifully shot.” Well, since we’re on the topic of cinematography, let’s imagine the camera pans across the many ways a film critique of a video filming the homicide of George Floyd is gross. When I say that film criticism is a craft to be respected, please do not think about including this rubbish as an example.

In film history (particularly that of French realism and documentaries), there is a term called “cinéma vérité”:

Cinéma vérité, (French: “truth cinema”), French film movement of the 1960s that showed people in everyday situations with authentic dialogue and naturalness of action. Rather than following the usual technique of shooting sound and pictures together, the filmmaker first tapes actual conversations, interviews, and opinions. After selecting the best material, he films the visual material to fit the sound, often using a hand-held camera. The film is then put together in the cutting room.

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Frazier’s recording isn’t “truth cinema” in the pretentious sense of film analysis, in so much that it served as a significant step in the ongoing journey toward securing justice for Floyd. I highly doubt Frazier was thinking about how her motion picture photography would be evaluated, so why is Johnson? Why would he project his self-absorbed label of film auteur onto a teenaged black girl who felt compelled to film the brutal arrest a black man (which resulted in his death)? In what delusionally white male world does Johnson live that would have him believe anyone needed his take on her “single-take?” America, I suppose.

This particular passage made me nauseous:

But not enough respect been paid to Frazier and her achievement, including 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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In an attempt at cosplaying a fresh film student, Johnson decided to write a frame-by-frame assessment—even going as far as to imply that Frazier should be a goddamn Academy Award nominee for her recording. Plus, if we’re being real, there is also something pathological about the Zapruder film (chronicling President John F. Kennedy’s assassination, which Johnson compares Frazier’s recording to) being lauded as some kind of cinematic achievement, given the content of the video. We’re not talking about an artful rendering of an action scene; we’re talking about people’s lives, here. What’s not clicking?!

Frazier has confirmed that she has been traumatized by events following her video’s release, including various forms of online backlash. Along with being accused of posting the video “for clout,” others have harassed her for filming instead of saving Floyd (as if a black teen girl trying to fight off cops couldn’t have resulted in two police killings that day). In that same vein, the man who recorded Eric Garner’s “I Can’t Breathe” video, Ramsey Orta, was recently released from prison after serving four years on suspiciously timely weapon and drug charges.

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Frazier’s mother has stated that her daughter already suffers from social anxiety, so this onslaught of heightened attention from the public and press alike is yet another unreal burden thrust upon a teenager. Not to mention the glaringly obvious—she witnessed someone being killed before she was able to legally vote; an extreme trauma in and of itself. I highly doubt a glowing comparison to Orson Fucking Welles will act as a salve to her emotional wounds.

On June 9, the blog was updated with an Editor’s Note:

Due to a failure in editing, this post fell short of TheWrap’s standards. It lacked focus and context, and missed the mark in its stated aim: to celebrate the brave young woman whose video of George Floyd’s killing has sparked worldwide outcry and renewed calls to end racial inequality. We sincerely apologize to our readers for that failure. We defend Johnson’s right to his opinion, and we have no interest in trying to make our shortcomings disappear. So we are leaving the post up on our site, as is.

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Except, this wasn’t simply a failure in editing. Rather, it was a complete disregard for basic editorial due process. How many people read this over and figured this dangerously triggering rhetoric just had to be consumed by the masses? Preposterous.

Additionally, The Wrap released a statement via Twitter noting,

“We are aware that a guest blog last week by Ross Johnson about the woman who filmed George Floyd’s death has generated criticism,” the publication tweeted from their official account. “TheWrap has invited Ross to respond to the concerns raised. It is never our intention to offend our readers by sharing the viewpoints of outside contributors. We seek to encourage a constructive dialogue and are open to publishing additional commentaries on this and other subjects.”

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Founder and CEO of The Wrap News Sharon Waxman and The Wrap Executive Editor Thom Geier released a further statement, vowing to “review the way [they] commission, edit and publish our Hollyblog guest blogs.”

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“As long as the human eye can recognize an image, Frazier’s name must not be forgotten,” Johnson concludes in his blog. No, her name must not be forgotten (nor will we, the black community allow that to happen as we will continue to embrace her and ensure she’s protected), but it absolutely should not be remembered in this way. And we will never let you forget just how much you (and The Wrap) fucked up here.

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And that’s a wrap.

Staff Writer, Entertainment at The Root. Sugar, spice & everything rice. Equipped with the uncanny ability to make a Disney reference and a double entendre in the same sentence.

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DISCUSSION

Founder and CEO of The Wrap News Sharon Waxman and The Wrap Executive Editor Thom Geier released a further statement, vowing to “review the way [they] commission, edit and publish our Hollyblog guest blogs.”

How about READING IT, FIRST!