Having debuted last Friday (9/22), SHOT, starring Noah Wyle and Sharon Leal, is being sold as a powerful portrayal of the consequences of gun violence. As the story tracks a victim’s “golden hour”—the window of time in which all EMT and ER hands are on deck to save his or her life—that summation feels accurate.
Perhaps more powerful than the film’s purpose, however, are its optics. As the story unfolds, while sorting through a messy divorce, Mark (Wyle) is accidentally shot in front of his wife (Leal) by Miguel (Jorge Lendeborg Jr.), a troubled teenager.
Identity is an important piece of the film’s parameters —a white man is shot by a Latinx boy, to the shock and horror of his black spouse. Those identities are the film’s foremost points of intrigue, but also pretty valid sources of pause.
As gripping, compelling and moving as SHOT ultimately is, it’s unfortunate the victim had to be white for an exploration of gun violence to be all of those things. For many Americans, gun violence as it affects black people is rarely ever discussed outside of disingenuous “black on black” crime arguments.
While NBA and NFL players still answer to responses akin to “what about Chicago?” when protesting state-sanctioned murders of black men and women and children, now at the very least feels like an inopportune time for a film to feature a white man as a narrative tool to trace the winding roads of gun violence.
Although she remains very much pleased with the film and the month she spent shooting it, Leal herself admits “it is a heavy burden to be the only story that people are looking at” in terms of contemplative depictions of gun violence.
The film is built around “one particular scenario,” she explains, but “92 Americans are killed on an average day. A lot of people don’t know that 50 women a month are shot by intimate partners in the United States, and that the presence of a gun in a domestic violence situation increases the risk of a woman being shot and killed. And seven American children are shot and killed every day.”
While SHOT does depict just one particular scenario, there’s something to be said for the fact that depiction happens to be of the least likely scenario. Assuming not much has changed since the DOJ’s findings in 2015, about 12 percent of white victims of violent crime are victimized by Latinx Americans, as Mark is shot by Miguel in the film—that percentage nearly doubles when the roles are reversed, suggesting someone like Miguel is far more likely to be shot by someone like Mark.
Moreover, putting stats to what we already know about violent crime and proximity—people most often shoot, assault, and rape folks who live in their own neighborhoods—56 percent of white people are violently victimized by other white people (Mark on Mark crime, if you will).
In fact, at the time of the study, white Americans accounted for a staggering 42.9 percent of violent crimes throughout the country, while black Americans accounted for 22.4 percent and Latinx Americans clocked in at 14.8 percent.
But to the credit of those involved with SHOT, despite the story told on screen, none of these stats were lost on the cast or crew.
“With everything that’s happening right now,” Leal explains, “it’s kind of a pressure cooker situation in the sense that we’re acutely aware of what’s happening. With violence and the situation with the police, there are things right in our face right now. There are so many more stories to be told, and there are a lot of unsung victims who have not been addressed.”
As Leal notes, SHOT isn’t meant to be interpreted as “the end-all-be-all” of thinkpiece cinema. And the identities of its characters, however jarring and noteworthy they may be as features, are ultimately tangential to the film’s narrative.
Rather than exploring three ethnicities, the film centers three lives and how they’re affected by the shooting, absent of anything indicating real-world politicization of race and gun violence was written into the story. According to the synopsis (and as seen in the trailer), five months after Mark’s “golden hour,” a regretful Miguel locates his accidental victim and seeks forgiveness, as Mark, now paralyzed, considers revenge.
“I think this film does a good job of balancing out the complexities of what it would be like to be any one of these people,” Leal says. “So, it’s not the poster film for exactly what’s going on regarding gun violence, but it certainly is a part of the conversation.”
While earnest attempts at dialogue are socially, politically and morally necessary, leading with the part of the conversation that centers white Americans almost never works out for people outside of that group.
When working-class white people became the target audience during last year’s presidential election, and it became clear certain white voters were struggling through economic anxieties no worse that what black folks have dealt with for decades, that dialogue lead to the election of a white supremacist.
When Colin Kaepernick sat during the National Anthem as an act of protest against police brutality and racial inequality, and then knelt to show deference to the troops, military service became synonymous with whiteness, as if there aren’t any veterans of color who could benefit from Kaepernick’s cause.
And while an indie movie being screened exclusively in two cities is a bit smaller than a presidential election or a nationally televised protest, its optics still matter. But for the sake of the well-intentioned artists who worked on it, including Leal and acclaimed director Jeremy Kagan, perhaps SHOT will present the first instance in history wherein the image of a threatened white person will spark a conversation that includes all Americans. Or maybe not.