Let Sandra Bland’s Legacy Inspire Change
By Marissa Blanchard
At a special screening and panel in Bland’s hometown of Chicago, her family and supporters gathered to hear the call to action.
“If there is a right place to show this film — it’s Chicago,” said director David Heilbroner introducing the documentary, Say Her Name: The Life and Death of Sandra Bland. The film screened at the Chicago International Film Festival as part of the Black Perspectives program, which was founded in 1997 by director Spike Lee and aims to uplift black stories, talent and voices.
Heilbroner and director Kate Davis noted it was no easy task to capture Sandra Bland’s courage and spirit, but wanted the film and its focus on her life and legacy to continue her message. “We hoped to bring Sandra herself to the forefront,” said Heilbroner. “There are too many stories where someone dies too soon at the hands of the police and they become a name and a statistic.”
The screening was followed by a round of applause and a Q&A with Davis and Heilbroner; Bland’s three sisters; and her attorney, Cannon Lambert. Here are the timely takeaways Sandy’s family and the filmmaker’s hope audiences will leave with.
Don’t be afraid to fight for justice.
Opening the panel, Sharon Cooper, Bland’s oldest sister, encouraged the audience to: “put action to your passion and don’t be scared.”
Sandra’s middle sister, Shavon, shared a similar message: “When we do these Q&As, people are frustrated and feel clueless to a certain extent.” Shavon advised the crowd: “Go fight in your way. If this film affected you, you need to go be the peace in your community.”
Heilbroner, who left his job as an assistant district attorney in New York City to pursue documentary filmmaking, spoke of his own experience. “I was so frustrated with the inability to bring justice. The system is just fundamentally prejudiced against people of color and with lack of means,” explained Heilbroner. “When I looked into who Sandy was, she left this incredible, unbelievable record discussing the forces that brought her down.”
“We all become elevated if we can help tell the story of someone who has been treated unfairly by society,” expressed Davis. “We need to fight for whoever that person is.”
Take the responsibility of creating change.
Attorney Lambert discussed how during proceedings police de-escalation training was left out of the now passed Sandra Bland Act, against his and the family’s wishes. “The legal proceedings are over, but it’s never going to be over for them or us. We all feel a part of this,” said Lambert. “Ultimately, the bigger issue is to be something to look at and charge ourselves with responsibility of doing something.”
Davis marveled over the strength of Sandy’s voice and what she left behind. “She left a legacy of thoughts that were ahead of her time about crossing divides and working together and listening to one another — even with people you think is your enemy,” recalled Davis. “If we put up walls, we aren’t going to change as a society.”
Cooper closed with an urgent call to action. “We all need to work together if we want change. Vote, vote, vote and vote. You do not have the right to complain if you did not cast your vote,” said urged the crowd. “Vote and hold these folks accountable for what they said they were going to do.”
Lambert echoed the point. “If it’s in the conversation it can be done,” he said. “How can you exercise power? When you pull that lever, that’s power.
Say Her Name: The Life and Death of Sandra Bland premieres on HBO on December 3.