New York, N.Y. — August 10, 2023— POV, America's longest running non-fiction series continues its 36th season with Peabody Award-winning director/producer Marco Williams’ personal film, Murders That Matter. The PBS alum documents five years in the life of Movita Johnson-Harrell, an African American Muslim mother in Philadelphia, as she transforms from a victim of violent trauma into a fierce advocate against gun violence in Black communities. Though her story is local, it nonetheless remains a siren call in the wake of escalating gun-related deaths that ultimately impact Black and other communities of color throughout the U.S.
A co-production with ITVS, Murders That Matter is scheduled to make its world premiere on Monday, October 2, 2023 at 10pmET/9C (check local listings) and will be available to stream until December 25, 2023 at pbs.org, and the PBS App. In addition to standard closed captioning for the film, POV, in partnership with audio description service DiCapta, provides real time audio interpretations for audiences with sensory disabilities.
Led by his own family’s experience with gun violence in the same Philadelphia neighborhood where Murders That Matter takes place, director Marco Williams, who also is the film’s cinematographer, crafts an intimate portrait of a community in crisis centered on family, redemption, grief and determination to save others from that same fate. “This story is of immense importance to me,” said Willliams. “I know first-hand the pain and invisibility of murder in the African American community. Tragically, a story of violence in the family is probably not uncommon for many African American families.”
Murders That Matter examines how life is shaped through a narrative of violence and trauma. What if you experienced the murder of people you love—a father, a brother, a cousin, a son? How would you respond? Would you seek revenge? How would you manage the trauma? The questions posed by the film become the philosophical vehicle and prime motivators for Movita Johnson-Harrell’s radical transformation from grieving mother and victim to raising herself up on a platform where she takes an unyielding and outspoken stance to confront the conditions that perpetrate cycles of violence in African American communities. Movita’s journey takes her from the Philly streets, to the Philadelphia DA’s office, and to the political campaign trail. Along the way, Williams captures her strength and resilience as she speaks out against gun violence to aid in healing from personal as well as collective trauma.
Featuring an original score by multi GRAMMY Award winning jazz legend, composer and bandleader, Branford Marsalis, Murders That Matter is told in chapters similar to a music composition. This film builds upon previous collaborations by Williams and Marsalis who have joined forces on other films including the 2021 Tulsa Burning: The 1921 Race Massacre (co-directed with Stanley Nelson). Williams and Marsalis were both nominated for Emmys. They also collaborated on the 1991 Cable Ace nominated fiction short, Without a Pass. Marsalis wrote the score and acted in the film.
"The trajectory of one woman’s life story and journey, brings into sharp relief the tragedy plaguing African American communities throughout the United States—the endemic of murders unspoken, but by a few,” remarked director Marco Williams. “Murders that Matter is a call to all, that there are many murders that matter in our country. I am excited and honored to return to POV with my latest documentary. POV is the premiere strand for documentaries. There isn’t a better home for the film.”
“POV is the home for untold stories, new perspectives and for filmmakers like Marco Williams who amplify voices from the most marginalized communities. We’re committed to sharing Movita Johnson-Harrell’s story, her personal trauma is undeniably human and sadly, too common, too underreported and often mischaracterized in the media. Her transformation from victim to trauma-informed policy advocate unfolds in this moving and beautifully crafted portrait. Murders that Matter is a compelling call to action and a timely addition to the POV family,” said Erika Dilday, Executive Director, American Documentary and Executive Producer, POV and America ReFramed.
Murders That Matter is an ITVS and American Documentary | POV co-production. Marco Williams is the director and producer. Music is by Branford Marsalis. The Executive Producers are Erika Dilday and Chris White for American Documentary | POV.
Murders That Matter
Director: Marco Williams
Cinematography: Marco Williams
Producer: Marco Williams
Executive Producers: Erika Dilday and Chris White for American Documentary | POV
Editor: Ken Schnieder
Composer: Branford Marsalis
Running time: 90 min
Countries: United States
Download Murders That Matter photos here.
About the Filmmaker
Marco Williams, Director/Producer/Cinematographer, Murders that Matter
Marco Williams is an award-winning filmmaker. He has been nominated three times for the Sundance Film Festival grand jury prize. He has spent his entire film career exploring the question of injustice, worldwide. He is a filmmaker whose films unmask the complexities of the human condition. A reviewer of his films opined: “you make films about the stories we prefer to keep hidden.”
His credits include: A New Greenbook, (2022), Tulsa Burning: The 1921 Race Massacre (2021), Crafting an Echo (2018), Lonnie Holley: The Truth of the Dirt (2017), Tell Them We Are Rising: The Story of Historically Black Colleges and Universities (2017), The Black Fives (2014), The Undocumented (2013), Inside the New Black Panthers (2009), Banished (2007), Freedom Summer (2006), I Sit Where I Want: The Legacy of Brown v. Board of Education (2004), MLK Boulevard: The Concrete Dream (2003), Two Towns of Jasper (2002), Making Peace: Rebuilding our Communities (1996), Declarations: The Spiritual Deficit and The American Dream (1993), In Search of Our Fathers (1992), From Harlem to Harvard (1982).
Williams’ films have screened at festivals worldwide, including, Sundance, Berlin, Hot Docs, Toronto, and numerous other festivals around the world. His films have been broadcast in the United States on PBS, History Channel, Nat Geo, and Discovery. Internationally they have screened on the BBC, The CBC, ABC, and more.
His film awards include Guggenheim Fellowship, a George Foster Peabody Award, the Beacon Award, the Alfred I. duPont-Columbia Silver Baton, the Pan African Film Festival Outstanding Documentary Award, the Full Frame Documentary Festival Spectrum Award, and the National Association of Black Journalists First Place Salute to Excellence Award, as well as an Emmy nominations for Tell Them We Are Rising and Tulsa Burning: The 1921 Race Massacre.
Produced by American Documentary, POV is the longest-running independent documentary showcase on American television. Since 1988, POV has presented films on PBS that capture the full spectrum of the human experience, with a long commitment to centering women and people of color in front of, and behind, the camera. The series is known for introducing generations of viewers to groundbreaking works like Tongues Untied, American Promise, Minding The Gap and Not Going Quietly, and innovative filmmakers including Jonathan Demme, Laura Poitras and Nanfu Wang. In 2018, POV Shorts launched as one of the first PBS series dedicated to bold and timely short-form documentaries. All POV programs are available for streaming concurrent with broadcast on all station-branded PBS platforms, including PBS.org and the PBS App, available on iOS, Android, Roku streaming devices, Apple TV, Android TV, Amazon Fire TV, Samsung Smart TV, Chromecast and VIZIO. For more information about PBS Passport, visit the PBS Passport FAQ website.
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POV films and projects have won 46 Emmy® Awards, 27 George Foster Peabody Awards, 15 Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University Awards, three Academy Awards® and the first-ever George Polk Documentary Film Award. Learn more at pbs.org/pov and follow @povdocs on social media.
About American Documentary, Inc.
American Documentary, Inc. (AmDoc) is a multimedia company dedicated to creating, identifying and presenting contemporary stories that express opinions and perspectives rarely featured in mainstream media outlets. AmDoc is a catalyst for public culture, developing collaborative strategic engagement activities around socially relevant content on television, online and in community settings. These activities are designed to trigger action, from dialogue and feedback to educational opportunities and community participation.
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