Self-taught filmmaker Jordan Rome’s ongoing project, 365 Ways to Kill an American, aims to make a statement. It draws from infamous, real-life incidents to “levels of police brutality committed against Black bodies in America.” Comprised of reenactments, each short video in the series takes well-known cases of police brutality and casts them in new light by presenting them as short, cinematic vignettes, often times drawing from verbatim transcripts.
365 Ways to Kill an American Goes Beyond Dashcam Footage
In one short, based on the beating, arrest, and untimely death of Black Lives Matter activist Sandra Bland, the race of the officer and Bland are reversed. Going beyond the dashcam footage so many are used to seeing on the news, cinematographer Spence Warren captures the altercation from multiple angles. Trees reflect off a windshield, and we see each actor’s eyes in painful detail as they navigate each other. This offers viewers an up-close-and personal look at the altercation between Bland and Officer Brian Encinia. Rome’s goal is to make each event more personal and empathetic for the viewer, and, to this reviewer’s judgment, the impact is gut-wrenchingly effective. Knowing that the words in 365 Ways to Kill an American’s Sandra Bland short were culled from the police transcript tape makes the short all the more chiling.
Race-swapped actors contribute to film’s impact
In swapping the race of the actors in the altercation, Rome aims to allow for greater outrage from audiences of all backgrounds. Spurred “by the lack of non-Black people speaking out about this very American issue,” Rome casts a white actor, Cassandra Snyder, as Bland and a black actor, Djvon Simpson, as Encinia. Each actor creates a full-formed character, and, a credit to Rome’s direction, layers in subtleties that heighten the encounter. To this reviewer, a white male, the result is as jarring as it is relevant. Brecht’s “verfremdungseffekt,” or “alienation effect,” came to mind, as enough distance is generated from Rome’s choice to convey the full weight of the story’s tragic realities.
With other incidents inspiring future iterations, 365 Ways to Kill an American is shaping up to be a stark wake-up call to Americans who’d rather ignore reality. Conceptualized and executed by an up-and-coming filmmaker with an exciting voice, the series is certainly worth keeping on your radar, and may even prove a useful tool in sparking new conversations online or in classrooms across the country.
Click here to watch the first part of 365 Ways to Kill an American
Photos courtesy of 365 WAYS TO KILL AN AMERICAN
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