By Milan Perera
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The Killing of Kenneth Chamberlain—a distressing but essential film that shows truth of police violence

The little known but true story of The Killing of Kenneth Chamberlain is a close-quarters look at how cops become racist murderers
Issue 2803
Frankie Faison as Kenneth Chamberlain in The Killing of Kenneth Chamberlain

Frankie Faison gives an exceptional performance in The Killing of Kenneth Chamberlain

Frankie Faison, who plays the title role in The Killing of Kenneth Chamberlain, hadn’t heard of this true story before he read the script.

So commonplace are police killings of black people in the US, that news of Chamberlain’s killing in New York didn’t reach Faison in nearby New Jersey. But the story—now dramatised by independent film maker David Midell—has fresh significance in the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement.

Kenneth Chamberlain Sr, a 68 year old veteran accidentally set off his medical alert around 5.30am. The responders sent police to Chamberlain’s room. By 7am he was dead.

After he refused to let police into his flat, they broke his door down, tasered him, then finally shot and killed him.

The runtime of the movie is roughly the same as the real‑time sequence of events outside Chamberlain’s door. This makes The Killing of Kenneth Chamberlain all the more harrowing.

The slick cinematography and the incidental music heighten the drama to an unbearable pitch. Probing, claustrophobic, camera angles couple with the cops’ loud pounding on the door and their racially-charged obscenities makes it uneasy viewing.

But Midell had the artistic conviction not to sanitise the heart wrenching murder of an innocent person who just wanted to be left alone.

Faison’s portrayal of Chamberlain as someone with post-traumatic stress disorder and bipolar disorder is also exceptional. The danger in portraying someone with a history of mental distress is to overplay it, and then reduce the character to a caricature. But Faison pulls it off.

He captures Chamberlain’s agitated state of mind of the black veteran, shaking like a leaf as his breathing becomes laboured.

The Killing of Kenneth Chamberlain is so strong that, after watching a screening, actor Morgan Freeman got on board as an executive producer. It is compulsory viewing to shed a fresh light on racial injustice and police brutality.

  • The Killing of Kenneth Chamberlain is available on digital platforms from Monday 9 May

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