HBO documentary film Southern Rites, directed by acclaimed American photographer Gillian Laub and executive produced by Oscar-winning musician John Legend, will premiere on Monday, September 28 at 7.30pm EST, exclusive to showcase.
This revealing 90 minute documentary follows Gillian Laub as she returns to the Georgia community where she documented segregated high-school proms, in photographs that garnered national attention when they were published in 2009.
Laub, a well-known visual artist whose photographs have appeared in TIME and the New Yorker, has spent more than a decade documenting disparate cultures around the world through vivid, iconic portraits.
The proms are now integrated, but in the aftermath of a fatal shooting of a young black man and in the midst of heated local election, the community still grapples with issues of race that extend well beyond the school.
Laub returned to Montogmery County, Georgia in 2011 to document a newly integrated prom and an historic campaign to elect its first African-American sherrif. While she was there filming, in the early hours of January 29, 2011, a shooting occurred at the home of Norman Neesmith, an older white resident.
Neesmith called the police to report that he had shot Justin Patterson, a young black man who had been invited over late in the evening by Neesmith’s adopted daughter. Patterson died at the scene. Laub was surprised to realise that Patterson’s death did initially not receive national news coverage. She set out to tell the story, gaining intimate access to individuals connected to the incident, including the young man’s grieving family and friends, as well as Norman Neesmith, his adopted daughter, Danielle and his legal team.
As the diversive case unfolds, Laub also chronicles the campaign of police chief Calvin Burns to become Montgomery County’s first black sheriff. Burns’ daughter, Keyke, who says Justin Patterson was her first love, works to elect her father, and is outspoken about the community’s racial divide.
Southern Rites features revealing interviews with people involved in both stories, who offer complex reflections on how well-worn racial lines may have informed the outcome of both events. The film closes as students prepare for a newly merged prom.
Executive Producer John Legend, who lends a new song, “We Still Believe”, to the documentary, said “By the end of the film, you see some sense that people might start coming together, so that gives me some hope.”