As the Coverage Winds Down: Where Do We Go From Here?
As with any news story, eventually the hype winds down and other newer topics take precedence. We seem to be hitting that point with the Trayvon Martin/George Zimmerman story. Between the royal baby, Edward Snowden’s father speaking out and now the Bradley Manning verdict and sentencing hearing, the news outlets have switched their attention and George Zimmerman now resides in the bottom crawler if he appears at all.
So what does this mean for the larger issues this trial and story brought into the national spotlight especially with regard to race relations and gun control? Will these topics cease to be discussed? Luckily there are other ways to get the public to address important issues, especially broad, polarizing topics such as race and gun control. One of the main components of social change and discussion is the entertainment industry. Most people think television and movies are created to gain a profit and provide entertaining fanfare to distract ordinary citizens from their lives for a couple of hours. But just as news programs can broadcast entertaining features to try to boost ratings, so can entertainment outlets produce products that try to invoke social change.
Making movies that discuss race and require viewing audiences to think about their own prejudices are not new in Hollywood. Just recently Fruitvale Station opened nationwide. This movie tells the true story of a young black man who was unjustly killed by a white policeman. This film took top prize at Sundance and is bound to get some recognition when award season starts early next year. The release of this film corresponded with the verdict of the George Zimmerman trial when race was already a hot topic in the media. This movie, however, helped fuel the discussion by providing an emotional connection to race issues and not just talking heads discussing the events of a court proceeding. Also since this movie is receiving such critical acclaim, six months from now during the Golden Globes and Academy Awards season when the George Zimmerman verdict seems like ages ago, discussion of this movie and the possible nominations it might receive will once again bring race relations back into public debate.
This is not the first time that a movie helped fuel the discussion on race. In 1989 Spike Lee’s movie Do the Right Thing told the story of different races living in the same Brooklyn neighborhood and how they interacted with another. In 2004, Crash was released and told the tale of different intertwining characters of different races and their viewpoints on racism and race relations. This movie would go on and win the Academy Award for Best Picture.
Movies about gun violence and gun control are not as prevalent (not surprising since a whole genre of action movies relies upon them) but can still be seen. In 2003 Runaway Jury came out and told the thrilling tale of a jury consultant, Rankin Finch, trying to pick the right jury so his gun manufacturing client will win their case, while a member of the jury, Nick Easter wins the trust of the rest of the jurors enabling him to manipulate their decisions. Easter then tries to sell the jury’s verdict to Finch. Interestingly, this movie was based off a book by John Grissom; however, in the book Finch was employed by a tobacco company not a firearms manufacturer. Perhaps the decision to change the sinister company that tries to fix a trial from a tobacco company to a gun manufacturer was a result of the Columbine shooting happening less than five years earlier.
There are also documentaries that bring gun issues to the forefront of discussion. The most notable and high profile was the Michael Moore film, Bowling for Columbine, which attacks different pro-gun laws. This film also won an Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature.
So needless to say even if George Zimmerman and Travyon Martin do not receive the news coverage they did during the height of the trial, there are still other outlets that will make sure the larger issues this trial brought into the discussion remain there.
This is not to say that Zimmerman and Martin are permanently out of the news. Other events might bring them back into the news story at least for the day. For example, New York mayoral candidate, Bill Thompson recently gave a speech comparing New York’s Stop and Frisk law to George Zimmerman’s murder trial. He said, "Here in New York City, we have institutionalized Mr. Zimmerman's suspicion with a policy that all but requires our police officers to treat young black and Latino men with suspicion, to stop them and to frisk them because of the color of their skin.” Thompson was able to use the tragedy that happened in Florida to address a local issue very much a topic of debate and concern for New York City residents. Also with Sybrina Fulton, Trayvon’s mother, actively taking a stand to get Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law repealed, her efforts will definitely keep her son’s memory and tragic end alive in the media.
So just because whole news programs are no longer devoted to the George Zimmerman trial and Trayvon Martin’s murder does not mean that the large issues brought into the public debate are forgotten. There are still other ways to jump start a discussion on race and gun control. These are important issues that affect millions of Americans, and they will never be completely out of the public’s mind.