By Gregory Crofton
Director Jason Pollock (Stranger Fruit) is back with another documentary that investigates the sudden death, and probable murder, of a young Black man.
The 17-year-old Kendrick Johnson was found dead in a high school gym, his body rolled inside wrestling mat. This unsolved murder took place in 2013 in Valdosta, Georgia, yet his family is still fighting to put him and it to rest – “No Justice, No Peace” – in 2021.
Kendrick’s mother drives by the school where her son was killed.
The investigation into Johnson’s death was reopened for I think a third time this year. Hopefully it will examine the evidence properly, likely finding that it points to the young man being killed by a “humiliated” white classmate who had lost a school bus fight to Johnson.
The suspect’s father worked for the FBI, which could be a reason the young man’s murder was covered up and initially deemed an accidental death. Local authorities posited that Johnson had climbed inside the mat to get his sneakers, suffocating in the process.
But Pollock’s doc refutes this ridiculous theory, showing that high school surveillance camera footage, involving the gym in which his body was found, was likely tampered with. Pollock and his team also have uncovered powerful evidence from that same surveillance system, images reported by federal prosecutors but never released to the public or to the Johnson family.
The film also delivers the results of an independent autopsy Johnson’s family had done on Kendrick’s exhumed body.
Pollock’s film provides plenty of historical context for white-on-black crime in America, comparing Johnson’s death to that of Emmett Till, a 15-year-old boy murdered by white men in Mississippi in 1955.
“Finding Kendrick Johson” also explores the racist history of the FBI and its founder J. Edgar Hoover, while showing how the Black Lives Matter uprising in the summer of 2020, fueled by the murder of George Floyd in Wisconsin, has stoked interest in the Johnson case.
One thing this film doesn’t do is tell the tale of this cover-up early enough in the doc. By my count, it took 50 minutes to present both sides of the alleged conflict. I hung in there, and apparently other viewers are doing that too because it’s ranked No. 19 on the iTunes list of Top Documentaries.
Watch the trailer for “Finding Kendrick Johnson” below. It’s available to rent or buy on iTunes and Amazon, and will premiere on Starz in December.