The death of unarmed teenager Trayvon Martin and the subsequent acquittal of his shooter George Zimmerman have inspired not only a flurry of social media posts, news stories and protests, but also art.
Artists drawing from current social and political topics is nothing new (“Strange Fruit,” What’s Going On, etc), but technology has increased the speed with which zeitgeist art is created.
Is it too soon for art inspired by this horrific incident and is it even possible to do so tactfully regardless of the time-frame? I don’t think that there is ever really such a thing as “too soon” when it comes to art, it just depends on the quality and tactfulness of the art.
Creative efforts inspired by Trayvon Martin have run the gamut from poignant and graceful to nonsensical and exploitative . On one end of the tastefulness spectrum you have Omari Hardwick’s beautiful and moving spoken word piece entitled Little Black Boy Wonder. The short video stars several celebrities such as Marlon Wayans, David Oyelowo and Eriq LaSalle delivering lines from a tribute written by Hardwick. Martin’s mom Sybrina Fulton just collaborated on a gospel song that was inspired by the mourning of her son’s death. She hopes the song will help other families in similar situations heal.
The other end of the tact spectrum brings us Rick Ross and his song “I Wonder Why.” The track is full of Ross’s usual chest thumping bravado about guns, ni**as and money, but just for good measure he repeats the phrase “Stand your ground” and raps about being followed by a “creepy a**cracker” (a phrase that Martin’s friend Rachel Jeantel testified that Martin used to describe Zimmerman). The end of the track features a portion of Jeantel’s actual testimony. Earlier this year, Chuck D encouraged Rick Ross to do a tribute rap about Martin’s death. This might not have been exactly what the “Fight the Power” rapper had in mind.
Other projects inspired by Martin’s death are also stirring up controversy. A PSA from the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence recreated the shooting of Trayvon Martin in graphic detail in an attempt to repeal Stand Your Ground laws around the country. It’s difficult to watch, but it’s also difficult to live with dangerous gun legislation. There’s a shock value to projects like this and for some people, no amount of good intentions will overcome that.
Law & Order: SVU is famous for using real-life people and situations as fuel for storylines and Trayvon Martin’s death is the latest contemporary story to be used as a plot. If previous “ripped from the headlines” episodes in the Law and Order franchise are any indication (Chris Brown, Britney Spears and Michael Jackson, etc), there will likely be a huge twist in the story that is much different than anything that actually happened in the Trayvon Martin case. The social and political commentary offered by Law & Order tends to be left-leaning, so it’ll be interesting to see what types of conversations and conflicts arise within the episode.
A documentary about Trayvon Martin is something that acclaimed film director Spike Lee would like to see.
In an interview with theGrio, Lee said that he is not saying he will necessarily make a documentary or a narrative film about Martin, but that it should certainly be done.
Lee was praised for his four-part HBO documentary about Hurricane Katrina, When the Levees Broke, and his documentary 4 Little Girls about a 1963 church bombing is considered a must-see. He certainly seems capable of creating a thoughtful, nuanced documentary about Trayvon Martin’s life.
The art world is a highly subjective space and artists draw from many areas of life to produce their creations, including real-life tragedies.
The death of Trayvon Martin is a tragic American story that has and will continue to inspire works of art in various forms, as it should. Art helps to shape and keep important conversations going and the issues that have arisen from that young man’s death are certainly worth addressing.