The idea behind making a documentary film is to, sometimes, shed light on oppression or wrongdoing. Once the film is made, people will see the truth that may not have even played out in the news… if the director did his job. All of that takes place right here because the director most certainly did do his job.
All of that takes place right here because the director most certainly did do his job. He’s Jason Pollock’s whose last feature film project was ‘Stranger Fruit.’ It tells the true story of what happened to Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. As he did with that film, here, he takes it upon himself to make sure you know that there were injustices done in this case.
The title of this film, “Finding Kendrick Johnson,” is upsetting to hear, to say the least, when you know what the “finding” part alludes to. On January 11, 2013, the body of Kendrick Johnson, “KJ” to his closest friends and family, was found rolled up in a gym mat at his high school. During the investigation, the body was moved, the scene compromised and there were many inconsistencies. These things were noticed by his parents, who then asked for an independent autopsy to be done. They insisted on it when the sheriff, Chris Prine, said no foul play could be found. Once they saw the autopsy photos, they knew that was not the case. You will, too.
It’s suggested that Kendrick fell into the mats. What we learn is that the width of Kendrick’s shoulders and the width of the mats, when they’re rolled up, make that charge reasonably improbable. Another unbelievable thing to come from this is hearing the sheriff say there was no trauma to the body. Since we get to see actual photos, the audience will see for themselves that this isn’t the truth.
Shoes that weren’t KJ’s were photographed to have had blood on them but were not tested. There was blood and vomit on his shoe, but they weren’t “bagged and tagged.” That’s a big red flag.
Throughout the film, Mitch Credle, a twenty-three-year veteran homicide detective of the Washington D.C. metro police department, tells us of the red flags he was alarmed by. Body parts and actual evidence are missing. He makes the audience aware of the fact that this case was the first he could recall where he was on a task force to work with the federal government, that far from D.C. Did it have anything to do with the fact that the sons of an FBI Agent had been in a fight with Kendrick Johnson not long before his death?
Credle tells us, “It’s my understanding they recused all the federal agencies from being involved with the case. Therefore, an outside agency like ourselves, with homicide experience, was perfect for investigating the case.” Then he asks why they’d recuse themselves.
Credle states, as many have, “Something just wasn’t right.”
This documentary is lovingly and passionately narrated by the fabulous and talented actress Jenifer Lewis, whose work includes the hit shows “Black-ish,” “A Different World,” and “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.” She has also worked on many feature films, “The Wedding Ringer,” “Think Like a Man,” and “Baggage Claim” are some of them. She played Tina Turner’s mother in “What’s Love Got to Do with It” and was in “The Preacher’s Wife,” playing the mother of Whitney Houston. Her IMDB credits are extensive and with so much work behind her, she knows the importance of getting through to her audience. She does that very well here. Though the film is a tragedy, it was an honor hearing her narrate what Pollock needed us to. Lewis gets into Valdosta itself, telling us that it isn’t the same as Atlanta. She claims that Valdosta is in the “Deep South” where confederate flags still fly along with statues of confederate leaders. “The roots of fascism run deep here.”
She then goes on to tell us about Mary Turner and what was done to her and the infant in her stomach. From this and other examples, it isn’t hard to imagine racism played a big part in covering up Kendrick Johnson’s death. The film does an unbelievably good job of pointing out everything you’d need to know to come to that conclusion.
It’s filled with an immense amount of information, given through interviews, press and video clips, and images. After watching, you’ll hope it helps KJ’s mother get the justice she so desires. There are hard to watch moments, but Kendrick and his family deserve you giving it all you have.
Find on Apple TV, Prime Video, YouTube, Vudu, and Google Play
Finding Kendrick Johnson
Director: Jason Pollock
Writer: Jason Pollock
Starring: Mitch Credle, Jackie Johnson, Kenneth Johnson and Jenifer Lewis as Narrator
Produced by: Malcolm D. Lee
Run Time: 1h 42min