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‘The Internet Isn’t Interested in Nuance’

Mar 07, 2019 | 831 videos
Video by Rich Williamson

On April 4, 2015, Walter Scott, an unarmed black man, was fatally shot by Michael Slager, a police officer who had stopped Scott for a nonfunctioning brake light. A shaky video taken by a witness revealed some essential facts: Scott had been running away when he was shot from behind, and Slager appeared to toss an unidentified object near Scott’s body following the shooting. But that was where the observable truth seemed to end.

Nearly 1,000 miles from the scene of the South Carolina incident, a Canadian college student watched the iPhone video. His name was Daniel Voshart, and his studies in cinematography focused on image stabilization. He applied his latest techniques to the footage and managed to stabilize a small section of the video. Suddenly, the previously blurry object was in clear view—and it appeared to be a Taser. When Voshart played back the stabilized footage, he could see Slager drop the Taser next to Scott’s body. It was potentially disturbing key evidence.

Voshart was outraged. Wanting to see Slager brought to justice for what he perceived to be a racially motivated murder and an attempted cover-up, he looped the footage into an animated GIF and posted it to Reddit. The community responded to his anger in kind. That’s when Rich Williamson, a close friend of Voshart’s, decided to start documenting the situation as it unfolded.

“The internet called for blood,” Williamson told me, “which pushed Daniel to look deeper. He felt partly responsible for the narrative of Slager planting evidence. He decided that the most complete narrative of what happened would only reveal itself by going frame by frame and taking the time to stabilize the entire video.”

Williamson’s short documentary Frame 394 bears witness to the moral quandaries that Voshart faced as a result of his efforts to elucidate the incident. When Voshart began to uncover a more ambiguous situation than the one his initial work had suggested, he found that “the internet wasn’t interested in a nuanced perspective,” Williamson said. The film lays bare the complexities of truth and justice in the age of viral media.

“We tend to focus on easily digestible nuggets of information at the expense of the bigger picture,” Williamson continued, “often ignoring detail and the historical context.” Williamson said he hopes that the film illuminates the systems “surrounding and protecting” the culture of policing and how they affect communities of color. He also hopes the film generates conversation about the nature of good and evil. “It’s easy to see Slager’s actions as evil,” he said. “It’s harder to reckon that his actions are partly a result of police training that churns out soldiers instead of community leaders. In equal measure, it’s important for someone who thinks that Scott was running based on some criminal intent to understand a reality in which running seems to be the only choice for some people.”

Following Voshart’s story closely has afforded Williamson a firsthand perspective on the way that the internet has shaped public opinion and discourse. “Technology has really pulled back the curtain on who we are, and it’s accelerated the conversation about every issue that exists today,” he said. “Whether we can grow together and make sense of all of the chatter is the question we have yet to answer.”

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Author: Emily Buder

About This Series

A showcase of cinematic short documentary films, curated by The Atlantic.