HBO’s new documentary film Say Her Name: The Life and Death of Sandra Bland tackles the controversial 2015 suicide of Chicago woman Sandra Bland, with Bland herself taking the lead role thanks to Sandy Speaks, her online video series where she discussed racial inequality, including police brutality toward black people.
“Sandra was different because she was writing about, speaking about the very issues that came back to haunt her,” co-director David Heilbroner told The Hollywood Reporter of his and fellow director Kate Davis’ attraction to the project. “This had this eerie resonance that there was no other story like that in the country.”
Davis advised viewers of the doc to “listen closely to Sandy herself.”
The pair joined Bland’s family and lawyer, Cannon Lambert, just 10 days after Bland’s death.
“We were on a journey with the family,” Heilbroner added, speaking to THR ahead of Sandra Bland‘s world premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival. “On one hand, you wanna win their trust and be there with them. You’re also trying to make a film. It’s a very complicated balance.”
“We have this very fierce bond in our family,” Bland’s older sister Sharon Cooper said. “David and Kate can tell you. They spent a lot of time with us.”
And as much as Sandra Bland is about the woman herself, it’s also about the relationship between her and her family. Bland’s mother and sisters were in attendance at Wednesday’s Tribeca premiere, and Cooper praised Bland’s voice.
“We don’t have to tell you who’s Sandra Bland or who’s Sandy to us because she does such a great job of utilizing her voice, speaking for herself and the amount of narrative control that she had over her character, her integrity, her ethics, down to the bitter end of her leaving this world is something that is so special to us,” Cooper said.
Since Bland’s body was found, the story of her death has been controversial. The documentary depicts the runarounds, omissions and injustices the family faced while challenging the official story from the police and jail officials in the Texas county where Bland was found dead. Her death speaks to a larger conversation many people across the country have been having regarding police brutality and the distrust of law enforcement officials. Once the news that Bland had committed suicide in jail broke, many activists began speculating that foul play was involved. Almost three years later, answers are still hard to come by.
“I wish I could really tell you what I thought [happened],” said Shante Needham, one of Bland’s sisters. “I really don’t know because they didn’t really give us enough to make that determination.”
“Because the family was so limited in their ability to gather information on the front end of it because that information rested in the hands of the police, they are faced with having to recognize this to be an in-custody death,” Lambert explained. “While in police custody, they are responsible for a person’s well-being.”
“What we do know,” Lambert continued, “is that there was a failure in that regard.”
There may not be concrete answers, but the family is working to make sure Bland’s death makes a difference.
“You see it on the news for a moment and then it’s gone,” said her mother, Geneva Reed-Veal. “By continuing to show her story, continuing to tell her story, somewhere, somehow, it’s gotta change. It’s gotta change.”