Film Review: The Killing of Kenneth Chamberlain: About the Film
By Gaby Maldonado
On November 19, 2011, African American retired Marine and 20-year veteran, Kenneth Chamberlain Sr. was fatally shot in his own home here in White Plains, New York.
When his medical alert necklace was accidentally triggered, police came to check on Chamberlain, but it only went downhill from there. Chamberlain had bipolar disorder, as well as heart disease. After more than an hour, the police entered his home but ended up taunting Chamberlain with racial slurs and eventually tasing and shooting him with a pistol.
The Killing of Kenneth Chamberlain is an American thriller drama film written, produced, and directed by David Midell, starring Frankie Faison as Kenneth Chamberlain. Morgan Freeman and Lori McCreary were the executive producers of the film and it ended up winning the Best Narrative Feature Award at the 24th Urban Film Festival.
The movie begins by showing 70-year-old Kenneth Chamberlain sleeping in his bed and accidentally setting off his LifeAid medical alert. Unaware of this, he goes back to sleep and sleeps through the call from LifeAid. Because there is no answer, the company sends the police to Chamberlain's home for a safety check.
A few minutes later, three police officers arrive at his apartment to see if there is an emergency. Chamberlain refuses to open the door for them and tells the police to go away explaining that the alarm was an accident. The police officers tell him that they cannot leave until they see that he is fine and that everything inside his home is fine. The officers then learn that Chamberlain has both a physical and mental illness. One officer understands that Chamberlain is clearly sensitive and thinks they should just listen to Chamberlain’s pleas for them to leave, but the other two officers continue to bang on his door to make sure he is not hiding something or someone.
Clearly frustrated and tired of having to ask the police officers to leave him alone, Chamberlain calls the LifeAid company and tells them about the problem. The company cancels the call and asks the police to leave Chamberlain’s building, but the police do not listen. Soon after, the police try to break down his door. Chamberlain is terrified that they are going to kill him even though he has explained to the officers that nothing is wrong. Many of Chamberlain's neighbors and family members call him to try and understand the problem, but Chamberlain tells them not to go to his apartment because he does not want the officers to hurt them. Chamberlain's fear is palpable; he does not feel safe in his own home.
Frankie Faison is an incredible actor who effectively expresses the emotions of Kenneth Chamberlain that morning. In a very natural performance, he conveys PTSD and other mental health conditions. Faison’s terror-filled eyes and trembling voice elicit sympathy from the audience. Additionally, Ben Marten who plays Officer Jackson, astounds as a racist white policeman whose aggression terrifies the audience.
The main thing I wished the film included is visual flashbacks of Chamberlain’s past impactful events. Throughout the movie, Chamberlain mumbles to himself and when he hears loud noises, he hears voices that cause him to feel afraid and jumpy. He starts talking to himself as if he is talking to someone, and you can hear Chamberlain’s thoughts. When he calls his family, his loved ones worry that something bad is going to happen like “last time,” but the film never states what happened. Having a flashback to the actual event that happened would have been helpful to the story.
Overall, I enjoyed the film; it was truly heartbreaking and frustrating to watch Kenneth Chamberlain struggle. The White Plains Police had no right to break down his door without a warrant or legal cause. Chamberlain explained numerous times that there was no emergency, and it was upsetting watch him experience terror, as he tries to defend himself. His story feels relevant in its exploration of racism and police aggression. His story deserves to be shared and heard.