Anyone who’s ever gone to the movies is accustomed to watching characters’ instant reaction to tragedy: Tears. Hysteria. Rage.
Diamond Reynolds wasn’t in a movie.
In her Facebook Live posting, viewed by more than 5 million people, she is relatively calm, polite and clearheaded as she speaks into her cellphone seconds after her boyfriend, Philando Castile, had been shot and killed by a Falcon Heights police officer during a traffic stop.
The lack of immediate emotion — the tears would come 10 minutes later while her 4-year-old daughter comforted her — set off a fiery debate on the media’s role in interpreting such an intimate, and unexpected, testimonial.
Reynolds’ composure prompted Fox News’ Megyn Kelly to wonder aloud why she wasn’t tending to her boyfriend’s wound rather than recording a video for social media.
“Why wasn’t she, I mean she says he’s dead, and he wasn’t dead at that point,” she asked her panelists on the July 7 edition of “The Kelly File.” “Like, I’m not saying 911 could have gotten there, but what the …?”
One of her guests, legal analyst Arthur Aidala, pointed out that the police officer had ordered her not to move and that Reynolds probably feared for her life.
But Kelly’s line of questioning irked Media Matters for America, the watchdog organization whose primary mission is to slam conservative outlets like Fox News. From a less partisan standpoint, the ensuing debate was a glaring example of how both journalism organizations and their consumers get rattled when reality doesn’t follow the playbook.
“Many people were asking about the woman going on Facebook in the moment and I put those questions to my panel, after which my guests defended her,” Kelly told the Star Tribune in an e-mail Friday. “My job is to give voice to the questions people want answered, even if the sentiment is upsetting to some.”
Kelly’s viewers would likely have benefited if her panel had included a trauma expert, like Jim Hopper.
“People are literally not feeling in their body what’s going on,” the Harvard psychology instructor told the Washington Post. “That circuitry can basically shut down. This is the brain on horror.”
Reynolds’ video polarized local audiences, as well, according to WCCO news director Mike Caputa.
“Some people want to see it in its entirety, unedited, and some don’t want to see it at all,” he said. “Our job is to inform, help people understand, not to shock. We don’t want to be exploitative.”
Veteran journalist Roland Martin said he was reduced to tears by how articulate Reynolds remained even with a policeman’s gun pointed at her.
“To have that poise, grace and clarity with her man dying next to her was stunning,” the host and managing editor of TV One’s “NewsOne Now” said via e-mail as he flew to Dallas to cover yet another tragedy. “But it was also powerful because she was ensuring that his death was not in vain. She essentially provided us the immediate play-by-play moments after the shooting.”
The fact that Reynolds’ video veers from the traditional Hollywood script made it that much more disturbing.
“It’s so out of the grain,” said David Burton Morris, the St. Paul native who has directed more than 40 films, including the 1988 indie sensation “Patti Rocks.” “I think her poise is one of the reasons it’s created such a spark. She’s going to be a great spokesperson for Black Lives Matter.”
Morris might have been inspired to take a different approach the next time he’s overseeing a graphic action scene. Except there won’t be a next time.
Morris, who recently moved back to the Twin Cities after a stint in Los Angeles, has all but sworn off directing violent movies.
“Thanks to TV, movies and video games, we’ve become inured to violence,” said Morris, who got almost physically ill at a recent screening of the big-budget horror flick “The Purge: Election Year.”
“I’m not saying everything has to be let’s-hold-hands and sing ‘We Are the World,’ but why go deeper and darker when our world is already falling apart?”
The rest of Hollywood may also want to consider pressing pause on gruesome, bloody stories.
Real-life videos from Falcon Heights and Baton Rouge already have them covered.