what killed michael brown

What Killed Michael Brown? Review: Some People Gon Be Mad

Can this documentary cut through the political polarization?

Disclaimer: I’m going to say liberal and conservative as umbrella terms, just for simplicity’s sake. I could be talking about progressives or alt-right people as well. I don’t want to drown in clarifications, sorry for whatever confusion that may cause. But a good way to be is: if it doesn’t apply to you then who cares?

Nobody can deny that we live in a racially charged time. Alongside the pandemic that’s sweeping the globe, North America is full of protests and riots about how black people are treated. Is it because of systemic racism, or is there something else at play? In a nutshell, that’s what What Killed Michael Brown? is about.

The director, Eli Steele, has stated–and shown evidence–of Amazon rejecting his flick. Is it because of the subject matter? Is the film really that controversial? Well, it depends on what side of the political divide you land on. If you’re a conservative, you’ll likely enjoy this. If you’re a liberal the chances of you disliking it are heightened considerably, but are by no means absolute.

So then the question arises: why might Amazon allegedly ban it because of its point of view, and why would I say liberals are more inclined to detest it? I won’t detail everything the film discusses but it can be watered down to believing that the Black Lives Matter/systemic racism/white guilt/victimization narrative is inaccurate.

Eli Steele and his father Shelby Steele, who wrote and narrates the film, believe that the liberalism that arose in the 1960s has done all it could to demolish the ascension of black people economically and socially. They place more importance on individuality and condemn certain left-wing policies. That’s why conservatives will eat this up.

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I think he might be serious.

It isn’t my place–no, not because I’m white–to announce which party wins the argument. I have seen the debate on both sides, along with being fairly well-versed in the statistics and emotions that drive the assertions. It’s safe to say that someone who opposes the viewpoint of this film already has a book of rebuttals for it. I’m not here to spew my own beliefs and taint my review. That means I’m only interested in how What Killed Michael Brown? makes its case.

It’s effective. Listen, if you’ve already made your mind up you’ll disagree with me. That’s fine, but it doesn’t change the fact that the film crafts a convincing version of the truth that uses data when necessary but doesn’t get bogged down in it.

Data is incredibly important to enacting change, but the human mind is wired to be more sympathetic to story. Eli and Shelby were aware of this and there’s plenty of more personal, anecdotal evidence presented with the more hardcore numbers. The ability to cover both bases with ease is why it does such an efficient job with its message.

Eli Steele got a good group of people as talking heads and revisited them. Even though it was in a small part I was pleased to see Coleman Hughes, who has quickly launched himself into a place that makes him worth listening to. Just on a personal note, I wish we could have heard from people like Thomas Sowell, John McWhorter and Glenn Loury, but that’s just a desire that doesn’t reflect on the quality of the film as is. It’s not easy to get people, nor can you get everybody.

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He looks like he’s about to cry.

As much as I enjoy the film, there are still some blemishes. Sometimes the personal accounts and experiences that they weave can go on a little too long. Editing them down or omitting certain redundant recollections would have helped the flow while not interrupting the general message.

There are also a lot of scenes of Shelby walking. I get that it’s essentially the story of an established conservative revisiting certain points and places in his life while reflecting on how we got here and where we could go, I just felt that it got tedious on occasion. There are moments where the narration and the visuals accompanying it click and it lends emotional credence, but I still wish that there was a little more B-roll inserted instead most of the time. I did specifically love how the ending shot was framed, however. Fantastic visual storytelling.

There’s a more meta aspect to the film that didn’t really alter my enjoyment of my film either way but I find notable regardless. The film touches on how these beliefs are generational, passed on from father/mother to son/daughter. This is an obvious statement but it is endearing that the film itself is a meditation on that. It’s produced by Man of Steele (great name) Productions, it’s written by the father and directed by the son.

What Killed Michael Brown? begins with the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, an event that caused an uproar. It traces the lineage of anti-racism back to decades before, follows the Michael Brown situation and then propels itself to this year. It takes the stance that really nothing has changed, and it’s true. We are seeing the same sort of dissent as we did back when Brown was killed.

The choice to play with the time frame and connect them, instead of merely focusing on one unfortunate event, is a good one. It’s where the strength of the documentary is built. I would recommend What Killed Michael Brown? to anybody, while being aware that it’s not going to strike a nerve with a large portion of the political spectrum.

But if Mr. Steele really wanted to get his point across, he would have spoken to this genius. Hit me up Eli, he’s available for an interview.



What Killed Michael Brown? is definitely a conservative manifesto. That’s not a judgment, just an observation. But what that means is that even though it argues its points with merit, there’s a portion of the population who are destined to hate it. That’s also not a judgment on them.

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