By David Lawrence Hamilton
On November 19th 2011 Kenneth Chamberlain, A 68 yr. old man who suffered from a chronic heart problem, inadvertently triggered his Life Alert necklace and White Plains police were dispatched to do a well being check. That was around 5am. By 7 am he had died from a gunshot wound by the police who were sent to help him. On November 11th 2021, the ten-year anniversary of this tragedy, HBO will premiere “The Killing of Kenneth Chamberlain”, written and directed by David Midell and executive produced by Morgan Freeman.
Frankie Fasion, best known for supporting roles in The Silence of the Lambs, Coming to America, Do the Right Thing and Hannibal, steps out front in the title role, giving a moving and grounded performance. Faison’s fear and paranoia as Chamberlin are palpable, believable and uncomfortable to watch. The film re-enacts a version of the events that led up to Mr. Chamberlain’s death based on statements from officers, tenants, the family of Mr. Chamberlain and forensic evidence. I use the word “version” because ten years later it is still unknown what actually happened that morning. What is factual and true is that Kenneth Chamberlain was a retired Marine and a 20-year veteran of the Westchester Department of Corrections. He suffered from post-traumatic stress from his time in the military and had a paranoia and distrust of the police. He was also a black man.
I had the opportunity to speak with the director of the film, David Midell about the project. “I always intended for the film to have an increasingly claustrophobic feel to it. Our goal was always to put the audience in Kenneth’s shoes”, Midell tells me. “Somebody who lives with mental health challenges, somebody who’s a Veteran who was dealing with post-traumatic stress issues.” We discussed the importance of films like this. “We hope it makes important points and asks important questions and what we want more than anything is for a conversation to be had after people see it.”
The training methods officers receive for dealing with and de-escalating situations involving individuals under mental distress have come into question in the last few years because of situations such as this. Watching this movie, you’ll understand why.
Editor’s Note: “The Killing of Kenneth Chamberlain” is out now on HBO Max. It is an important must see film.
Photos are courtesy of “The Kiling of Kenneth Chamberlain”.