Say Her Name: The Life and Death of Sandra Bland Carries on Sandra’s Message

By Marissa Blanchard

Three years after her death, Sandra Bland’s family and the documentary’s filmmakers work to ensure the discussion Sandra started continues.


After an arrest for a traffic violation in Waller County, Texas, what happened during Sandra Bland’s three days in jail that led to her alleged suicide? Such questions dominated the news cycle in July of 2015 and directors Kate Davis and David Heilbroner (Traffic Stop, The Newburgh Sting) have joined the inquiry with their latest project, Say Her Name: The Life and Death of Sandra Bland, exploring who Sandra was, connecting with her family, and taking viewers inside the story.

Following the film’s premiere at the 2018 Tribeca Film Festival, Davis and Heilbroner took the stage alongside Sandra’s attorney, Cannon Lambert; Sandra’s mother, Geneva Reed-Veal; and three of her sisters, Shante Needham, Sharon Cooper and Shavon Bland, to share what they hope the documentary will do that the news media couldn’t.

Align with Sandra’s own message.

For director Heilbroner, getting all sides of the story was imperative. Because of this, the documentary features long-form interviews with authorities the news outlets didn’t contact or didn’t have access to.

“Sandy’s message was: We need to listen to one another,” said Heilbroner. “So we felt we couldn’t make the film without listening to their point of view. I don’t agree with everything they say, but that’s not the point.” He noted his background as a prosecutor in Manhattan helped get interviews with the Waller County authorities.

“By continuing to show her story and tell her story, somewhere, somehow it’s going to change.”
— Geneva Reed-Veal

Highlight Sandra’s voice.

The filmmakers incorporated footage from Sandra’s “Sandy Speaks” video blogs to give her a presence in the film. “I’m glad she continued to use social media for good,” said Sandra’s sister, Sharon Cooper. “We don’t have to tell you who Sandy is because she does such a great job of utilizing her voice.”

Allow Sandra’s fight for social justice to live on.

Davis and Heilbroner, who also worked together on the Academy Award®-nominated documentary, Traffic Stop, voiced their hope to continue telling the stories of victims of police brutality. “Every case out there deserves to be known,” said Davis. “Because of Sandy’s videos and the incredible access to her, and her incredible family who had the courage to do this film, Sandy can help speak for people whose names we’ll never hear.”

Bland’s mother, Geneva Reed-Veal, had her own reason for participating. “You see it on the news for a moment and then it’s gone,” she acknowledged. “By continuing to show her story and tell her story, somewhere, somehow it’s going to change.”