Say Her Name: The Life & Death of Sandra Bland screened at Coolidge Corner Theatre

From left to right, Kate Davis, David Heilbroner, and Dr. Raul Fernandez open the discussion about the film to the audience. Photo by Cheyenne Darcy Amaya / BU News Service

By Cheyenne Darcy Amaya
BU News Service

BROOKLINE — The death of Sandra Bland led to many speculations and questions that remained unanswered after her passing.

Coolidge Corner Theatre presented the film “Say Her Name: The Life & Death of Sandra Bland” on Nov. 18, as part of their Wide Lens series. There were 329 attendees at the screening, including the two directors of the film and sisters of the Zeta Nu Sigma Chapter of Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority Inc.

Sandra Bland was a sister of The Divine Delta Alpha Chapter of Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority, Incorporated at Prairie View A&M University.

On July 10, 2015, Sandra Bland was pulled over in Prairie View, Texas, by state trooper Brian Encinia for a traffic violation. Dashcam footage showed Encinia forcing Bland to get out of her vehicle. A few seconds later, out of the dashcam view, Bland is heard screaming: “You are about to break my wrist.”

She was arrested and taken to Waller County Jail, where she spent three nights. Police found her dead in her cell on July 13, 2015. The Harris County Medical Examiner Office ruled her death a suicide and said she used a plastic trash bag to hang herself.

Film directors David Heilbroner and Kate Davis began working with Bland’s family 10 days after her death. In the film, her family spoke about Bland’s death ruling and their belief that she did not kill herself.

“I don’t believe Sandy shut her mouth when she got to that jail. I believe she let them know ‘I’ll see you guys in court’ and I believe they silenced her,” said Bland’s mother, Geneva Reed-Veal.

Sandra Bland, 28, was an activist who sought to “unite not incite” blacks and whites. She spoke about this in one of her Youtube videos, known as “Sandy Speaks.” She routinely started her videos off by saying: “Hello, my beautiful kings and queens.”

“Sandy Speaks videos inspired us,” said director David Heilbroner. “They set the bar for the quality of the level of dialogue we wanted the film to inspire. We’re in a very polarized state in the country now and Sandy was all about crossing that racial divide.”

Directors Kate Davis and David Heilbroner with the Zeta Nu Sigma Chapter of Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority, Incorporated on Nov. 18, inside the Coolidge Corner Theatre in Boston. Photo by Cheyenne Darcy Amaya / BU News Service

Although the film was dark, Heilbroner highlighted moments that showed Bland’s bright personality. He recalls her saying “baby, under that edge-up you got naps” in one of her videos and audience members laughed.

“Here’s a film where a woman dies in custody, but it gives you some relief from the tragedy that she had this brightness and humor. For me it was so important for me to include that artistically in the film,” Heilbroner said.

The film centers on Sandra Bland’s grieving family, but it also shows the workers from Waller County Jail and their perspectives. They believed that Bland had committed suicide and that it could have been because of her fear of losing her new job, a miscarriage, depression and marijuana that was later found in her system.

Davis noted that it was important to hear what the staff at Waller County Jail thought and that in the end, they are the ones who have to hold themselves accountable.

“We have to get law enforcement to see where are the mistakes and what are the roots of those mistakes and where does racism potentially lie,” said Davis.

As she was leaving the cinema, Alexis Briggs, 23, a graduate student at Boston College said: “I liked the movie, I thought that it gave a very neutral view of things.”

Director Heilbroner addressed how Bland’s family experienced tremendous grief and that it will be clear when people see the film, to be released on HBO on Dec. 3.

“As painful as it is to watch someone else go through it, you have to remind yourself [that] they are so strong compared to what you are,” he said. “Sandy’s family was an incredible group of resilient, self-empowered women.”

Soror Zina Hodge, 29, a sorority sister of the Zeta Nu Sigma Chapter of Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority Incorporated, said: “I think that the film humanized her. It definitely told her family’s story as well as her story and all that happened after her death.”

She added that Sandra Bland’s mother and pastor joined the sorority after her death and have since been heavily involved in it.

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