Within days after Sandra Bland was found hanging in her jail cell on July 13, 2015, a sense was setting in among those closest to her that Sandra's supposed "suicide" might actually be something far worse. Protesters called out a southern-style lynching, and the media descended on Waller County Texas and Sandra’s family in Chicago. In the midst of this overnight national attention, the family’s lead attorney, Cannon Lambert, fielded our phone call, asking if we could film their battle to learn the truth about Sandra's death. We jumped on a plane for Chicago and began a two-year journey leading to Say Her Name: The Life and Death of Sandra Bland.
Reality is rarely simple, and David’s background as a Manhattan prosecutor also helped us gain access to the Waller County authorities, who felt stigmatized by a growing chorus of anger against the Texas law enforcement, at one point the local jail being stormed by a mob of protestors. The film gives voice to multiple opinions surrounding a mysterious series of events, beginning with Sandra's arrest for 'assaulting an officer' and going through the following three days where she was placed in solitary confinement. We felt strongly that hearing from law enforcement as well as Sandra's family will help audiences more deeply consider where tragic mistakes were made, how bias may have played a role in her death, and how we may fight for change. As Sandra herself says in the film, "We need to educate each other. That's the only way this is going to work."
The filmmaking took us to some dark places — from a morgue where Sandra’s second autopsy was performed, to the Texas jail cell where she spent her final three days. But there were also pockets of joy. Some 30 “Sandra Speaks” video blogs (which Sandra filmed herself) allowed us to get to know Sandra Bland in what felt like a first-hand manner. She speaks as an empowered, enlightened woman of color whose sharp, humorous, charismatic remarks address subjects such as educating kids about black history, the importance of natural hair, police brutality, and how she felt both black and white people need to listen to one another. And so, Sandra herself emerged as the film's central voice, speaking eerily from beyond the grave to help put her own life and death in the context of America today.
- Kate Davis and David Heilbroner