Prairie View A&M Hosted Sandra Bland Documentary Discussion

It’s been three years since Sandra Bland died in police custody in Waller County, Texas and her family still has a long list of unanswered questions.

HBO’s documentary, Say Her Name: The Life and Death of Sandra Bland which aired December 3rd at 10:00 pm ET, revealed more details about the circumstances surrounding Bland’s death. Ten days after Sandra’s death, Academy Award Nominee David Heilbroner, along with fellow filmmaker Kate Davis, started working with the family’s legal team to follow the two-year battle between Sandra’s family and Texas authorities. The compelling film features interviews with Bland’s family and friends, the Waller County sheriff, the county prosecutor, and other people who are key to the situation.

Prairie View A&M University hosted a private screening of the documentary to approximately 250 attendees, Tuesday, November 13, 2018. Participants shared their thoughts about the event. “I hope this isn’t another documentary that further promotes the negative and unjust treatment Black people receive in America,” shared Ramaz Ali community activist.  On the opposite side of the spectrum, members of Sigma Gamma Rho, Inc., Bland’s sorority, felt the film would be a celebration of her life and where eager to view it, but appreciated her voice would be heard.

“Upon deciding to attend the screening, I was unsure of how I would feel. I never followed the Sandra Bland story nor looked deeper into the story when it went viral,” shared marketing student Anntraniece Smith. “After watching the screening, I felt upset, uncomfortable, and confused. Although many of the questions I had were answered in the documentary, it left me with more than I had before I watched. I feel the documentary is mostly to give you a better understanding of the type of person she was rather than to get your questions answered about the incident.”

At the conclusion of the documentary, a panel discussion followed, with Heilbroner, Teresa Dowel-Vest, film instructor at PVAMU, as well as students Gregory Bowens and Mar’Shayla Thomas.  With the city of Prairie View as the scene for the traffic stop, many students focused more on the making of the film as opposed to the injustices that surfaced around Bland’s death. Some attendees were in the film, and most were far too familiar with what transpired first hand. “I knew what was going on.  I was very active in the protests at the Waller County Jail.  I even dropped off drinking water [to the protestors], when I had an opportunity,” expressed Michael Thomas a Waller County resident.  “I just hope this [documentary] doesn’t make the community numb to the overall issue.”

Many of the students attending asked questions on the production factor in making the documentary, which Heilbroner gave tips and pointers, but he also offered insight to how he came about filming Bland’s family and the judicial process they were encountering. “There were other women that became hashtags, but Sandy focused on empowering the community,” shared Heilbroner. “Approximately 30 ‘Sandy Speaks’ video blogs, which Sandra created herself, allowed us to get to know Sandra Bland in a deeply personal way.” The film team followed the two-year case beginning shortly after Bland’s death, exploring the questions of what really happened to her, and what we may learn from her tragedy.

Post Screening Discussion

It’s About Time (Episode 209) with David Heilbroner


By Maurice Perkins