Finding Kendrick Johnson


Nobody deserves to end up like this.

(2021) True Crime Documentary (Gravitas) Jenifer Lewis (narrator), Jackie Johnson, Mitch Credle, Kenneth Johnson, Lydia Tooley Whitlock, Kenyatta Johnson, Mark Austin, Barbara English, Dr. William R. Anderson, Michael Moore, Tyrone Brooks. Directed by Jason Pollock

 

\One of the basic tenets that holds our society together is the rule of law. The laws of the United States are particularly enlightened in many ways; nobody is theoretically supposed to be above the law. We have seen over the years that isn’t always the case.

Kendrick Johnson was a typical teenage boy living in Valdosta, Georgia. He liked sports, was close with his family who were devout Christians (all of the Johnson children have the initials “KJ” which stands for King Jesus, mother Jackie explains). He played video games, hung out with friends and was by all accounts a decent, nice guy.

On January 10, 2013, he didn’t return home from school. His mother, frantic, called her husband Kenneth – a truck driver, who was on the road at the time. He hurried back home, knowing that being out late without calling home was unlike his son. When he got home, he went straight to Lowndes High School, where he discovered that Kendrick had been found dead. His body was rolled up in a gym mat.

The coroner ruled that his death was an accident; that he had tried to reach down into the mat to get his shoe and had fallen into the hole made by the rolled up mat and asphyxiated, all while other kids were nearby.

But it didn’t make sense. For one thing, the dimensions of the mat were too small for Kendrick to just fall in. Jackie, who at first believed the Valdosta police’s explanation, began to get suspicious. She wanted a different forensic medical examination of her son’s body, so it was exhumed. Dr. William Anderson was hired to do the autopsy for the Johnson family. When he opened up the body, he discovered to his shock and horror that all the internal organs were gone; in their place were rolled up bits of newspaper. However, there was enough left that it was plain to Dr. Anderson that the boy had not died of positional asphyxia. There were also wounds on the body that indicated that he had been badly beaten before he died.

The Johnsons suspected a cover-up and launched a campaign to get justice for their son. At first, it seemed like their pleas were being heard; a federal investigation was launched. The case became national news. But abruptly, the investigator quit and the case was transferred to an office in Ohio, where it was quietly closed. But why? Why would anyone want to cover up the death of a high school kid?

The filmmakers try to give the crime larger context. We’re shown the history of crimes against the African-American population of the South, particularly in Valdosta, starting with the lynchings that took place locally as well as the Emmitt Till murder in Mississippi. The crimes are made relevant, showing footage of the deaths of Eric Garner in New York City and George Floyd in Minneapolis. Kendrick Johnson, the filmmakers are saying, is part of a larger pattern. Would the crime of his murder have been covered up had he been white?

To the credit of the filmmakers, they uncover some damning evidence that the federal investigators had been made unaware of (one of them, a Washington DC homicide detective named Mitch Credle, was absolutely gobsmacked that a filmmaker had uncovered the evidence but a federal investigation couldn’t). Was Kendrick Johnson the victim of a modern-day lynching?

Well, I’m not so sure on that score. That he was murdered I think is proven beyond a shadow of a doubt. That there was a cover-up, absolutely for sure. Was the crime racially motivated? That is less clear. The filmmakers do point at a couple of likely suspects – fellow students at Lowndes whose father happened to be an FBI agent. But if the son of an FBI agent have been involved with the murder of a white boy, would the father still have covered it up? I think the answer is likely yes.

There are crime scene photos of Kendrick’s body as well as autopsy photos, along with pictures of Emmitt Till’s corpse and other victims of lynching, so this really isn’t for the squeamish. The film doesn’t give any warnings of the disturbing content, so do take this seriously – it isn’t pretty. In fact, it’s ghastly, but I understand why it was done – the brutality of these crimes should not be overlooked.

I do feel for the Johnson family. Certainly they have been denied justice and I do hope that this film helps them achieve it. However, when you compare the death of Kendrick Johnson to the death of Emmitt Till, the comparison doesn’t hold up. It seems likely that Johnson’s death was a dispute with another student that got out of hand. Whether or not it was racially motivated….well, given that Valdosta doesn’t have the most savory reputation when it comes to race relations, it seems likely, but there’s this whole “reasonable doubt” thing. That is also a part of the rule of law.

REASONS TO SEE: A compelling story that engenders sympathy for the Johnson family.
REASONS TO AVOID: Overly lurid.
FAMILY VALUES: There are disturbing crime scene, historical and autopsy photographs.
TRIVIAL PURSUITS: The filmmakers spent four years investigating the case.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, AppleTV, Google Play, Microsoft, Redbox, Spectrum, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 8/26/21: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet; Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Cold Justice
FINAL RATING: 6/10
NEXT:
The Smartest Kids in the World

New Releases for the Week of August 27, 2021


CANDYMAN

(Universal) Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Teyonah Parris, Nathan Stewart-Jarrett, Colman Domingo, Kyle Kaminski, Vanessa Williams. Directed by Nia DaCosta

Although the Cabrini-Green housing project has been torn down and gentrified into upscale condos, the horror of the Candyman remains. A young artist, hearing the background story of the urban legend, begins to paint macabre details of the crime that created the Candyman, unwittingly opening up a new portal to terror.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website

Genre: Horror
Now Playing: Wide
Rating: R (for bloody horror violence, and language including some sexual references)

A Rescue of Little Eggs

(Pantelion) Starring the voices of Mauricio Barrientos, Bruno Bichir, Carlos Espejel, Maite Perroni. A cocky rooster and his fowl partner undertake a dangerous trip to the Congo to recover their stolen eggs from a gang of Russian thugs.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website

Genre: Animated Feature
Now Playing: AMC Altamonte Mall, AMC Disney Springs, Regal The Loop, Regal Waterford Lakes
Rating: PG (for rude material and action)

Annette

(Amazon) Adam Driver, Marion Cotillard, Simon Helberg, Devyn McDowell. A stand-up comic falls in love with a world-famous opera singer and together they have a child of unique grace and an exceptional destiny. This is the latest from visionary director Leos Carax.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website

Genre: Musical
Now Playing: Cinematique Daytona (also on Amazon Prime)
Rating: R (for sexual content including some nudity and for language)

Curiosa

(Film Movement) Noémie Merlant, Niels Schneider, Benjamin Lavernhe, Camélia Jordana. The true story of a love triangle (okay, a love square if you must) featuring French author Pierre Louÿs, his best friend, his best friend’s wife, and a passionate Algerian woman.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website

Genre: Biographical Drama
Now Playing: Enzian On-Demand
Rating: NR

Death Rider in the House of Vampires

(Atlas) Devon Sawa, Julian Sands, Glenn Danzig, Danny Trejo. A lone mysterious rider crosses the desert to find the Vampire Sanctuary. Once there he takes on all manner of bloodsuckers as ex-Misfit rock star Glenn Danzig reaches for new heights.

See the trailer here
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Genre: Horror Western
Now Playing: Amstar Lake Mary, Fashion Square Premiere, Regal Pavilion Port Orange, Studio Movie Grill Sunset Walk
Rating: NR

The Final Set

(Film Movement) Alex Lutz, Ana Girardot, Kristin Scott Thomas, Jürgen Briand. A tennis player in the twilight of his career looks back at unfulfilled potential that marked it. Although his wife and mother advise against it, he decides to take one last crack at the French Open championship and against all odds makes his way through the tournament – until he is matched with a young prodigy who reminds him of his younger self.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website

Genre: Sports Drama
Now Playing: Enzian On-Demand
Rating: NR

Flag Day

(United Artists) Dylan Penn, Sean Penn, Josh Brolin, Norbert Leo Butz. A young woman has a complicated relationship with her father; on the one hand, he made her life feel like a grand adventure; on the other hand, he was a notorious counterfeiter constantly on the run from the law or in jail. This drama, based on a true story, is directed by Sean Penn and stars his real-life daughter.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website

Genre: Biographical Drama
Now Playing: Regal Winter Park Village
Rating: R (for language, some drug use and violent content)

Ichata Vahanamulu Nilupa Radu

(A1) Vennela Kishore, Meenakshi Chaudhary, Sushanth, Sambaa Siva. An architect with a loving mother and a beautiful girlfriend finds his life going haywire one day when he parks his bike in a “No Parking” zone.

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Genre: Dramedy
Now Playing: AMC Classic New Smyrna, Cinemark Orlando
Rating: NR

Lydia Lunch: The War is Never Over

(Kino Lorber) Lydia Lunch, Henry Rollins, Thurston Moore, Danita Sparks. The career of Lunch, a legendary No Wave musician and underground performance artist, is chronicled by her friend and collaborator Beth B. This is the latest installment of the Enzian’s new Meet the Filmmakers series.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website

Genre: Music Documentary
Now Playing: Enzian (Monday only)
Rating: NR

Mama Weed

(Music Box) Isabelle Huppert, Hippolyte Girardot, Farida Ouchani, Liliane Rovere. A translator on the Paris narcotics unit who is deeply in debt trying to pay for the long-term care facility in which her mother resides comes into a stash of narcotics and uses her insider knowledge to become Mama Weed, salesman extraordinaire of the wacky weed.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website

Genre: Crime Comedy
Now Playing: Cinematique Daytona
Rating: NR

No Man of God

(RLJE) Elijah Wood, Luke Kirby, Robert Patrick, Aleksa Palladino. As Ted Bundy awaits execution for his numerous crimes, FBI profiler Bill Hagmaier interviews the serial killer with the hopes of using the information he gleans to identify other criminals in the future. The dialogue is taken from the actual transcripts of the interviews Hagmaier conducted.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website

Genre: Crime Biography
Now Playing: Enzian
Rating: NR

Sridevi Soda Center

(Zee) Anandhi, Sudheer Babu Posani, Pavel Navageethan, Rohini. Based on an actual incident, the film depicts a love story taking place amidst the caste system and politics of rural India.

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For more on the movie this is the website

Genre: Musical Comedy
Now Playing: AMC Classic New Smyrna, Cinemark Orlando
Rating: NR

Together

(Bleecker Street) James McAvoy, Sharon Horgan, Samuel Logan. A couple whose relationship is deteriorating are suddenly stuck together by the pandemic lockdown. This is the latest film from Oscar nominee Stephen Daldry.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website

Genre: Dramedy
Now Playing: AMC Disney Springs, CMX Plaza Café Orlando, CMX Merritt Square
Rating: R (for language throughout)

COMING TO VIRTUAL CINEMA/VOD:

A Wake (Tuesday)
Afterlife of the Party
(Wednesday)
Blob Blob Fish
(Tuesday)
He’s All That
Mortal Kombat Legends: Battle of the Realms
(Tuesday)
Vacation Friends

SCHEDULED FOR REVIEW:

Annette
Candyman
No Man of God
Together