Kalief Browder spent more than a thousand days confined on Rikers Island (Photo by Zach Gross)
Soon after inking a two-year production deal with The Weinstein Company (TWC) 2 months ago that will give TWC an exclusive first-look at any film or television projects he produces, Jay Z set the first project that will fall under the new agreement - a docuseries titled “TIME: The Kalief Browder Story,” which will center on the story of Kalief Browder, the Bronx high school student who killed himself in 2015 after being held for three years on Rikers Island for allegedly stealing a backpack.
At only 16-years-old, Browder was arrested in 2010 for second-degree robbery and imprisoned for three years with no conviction - two of which he spent in solitary confinement. His family could not afford the $3,000 bail. During his imprisonment, Browder maintained his innocence and refused a plea deal. Eventually, he was released in 2013 after his case was dismissed due to so many trial postponements, and his accuser left the country. In January 2015, President Barack Obama wrote an op-ed for the Washington Post urging there be an end to what he called an “overuse” of solitary confinement as prison punishment, which was influenced by the conditions in which Browder lived while at Rikers. Six months later, Browder hanged himself.
“Time: The Kalief Browder Story" is set to air as a six-part series beginning in January on Spike TV. The episodes will feature dramatic reenactments of the young man's life, archival footage, as well as interviews with family and friends.
Jay Z is executive producer of the series along with Harvey Weinstein, David Glasser, Jenner Furst (who is directing), Nick Sandow, Julia Willoughby Nason and Michael Gasparri.
“Kalief Browder is a modern-day prophet; his story a failure of the judicial process,” Carter said. “A young man, and I emphasize young man, who lost his life because of a broken system. His tragedy has brought atrocities to light and now we must confront the issues and events that occurred so other young men can have a chance at justice.”
“The story on the evening news created a lot of attention and action around Kalief Browder, but it wasn’t the whole story. If Kalief Browder’s life matters then his whole life matters, and that’s how we have been approaching this project,” director Furst said.
Harvey Weinstein added: “This series will take an important look at why Kalief’s life was cut so short, the flaws in our justice system and hopefully will continue some powerful conversations and movements for some much needed reform.”
The announcement of the series came about a month after Jay Z collaborated with dream hampton, Molly Crabapple, Jim Batt, and Kim Boekbinder, on an video op-ed for the New York Times that gave a brief history lesson on the exponential growth in the USA’s prison population (with emphasis on how this has disproportionately affected African Americans especially). Jay Z also recently teamed up with Will Smith to produce an HBO mini-series on the life of Emmett Till.
Announced today, "TIME: The Kalief Browder Story" will make its World Premiere at the upcoming Sundance Film Festival next month. The first two episodes of the "in-depth, humanizing look at a broken justice system" (per Sundance's write-up) will screen during the festival, and will be followed by an extended Q&A likely featuring Jay Z, as well as the director Jenner Furst, and other members of the production team.
I should mention that Venida Browder, mother of Kalief Browder, died about 2 weeks after the announcement of the TV series on her son's life. Complications of a heart attack were the cause of her death at St. Barnabas Hospital in the Bronx, NYC. She was surrounded by five of her six surviving children.
No trailer for the upcoming series at this time.