Sample donated: Jeannette Massey
Last updated: November 17, 2019
“14 Days in May” is a documentary about capital punishment. Capital punishment is the most severe form of justice possible; it is the punishment of execution. This punishment exists mainly because it is a huge deterrent against ‘would be’ criminals. Some countries do not deploy this because it is thought to be inhumane to take somebody’s life away regardless of any reason. If somebody is convicted and sentenced to ‘life’ when they were innocent, it would be the biggest mistake that could ever be made. In many people’s view this would be an injustice and also an error that could never be repaid.
This documentary is about capital punishment and is attempting to convince us it is wrong. The documentary is following the last two weeks of the life of a man on death row. The man was black and called Edward Earl Johnson who was convicted of murdering a white police officer and raping a white female.
This documentary is mostly set in The Mississippi State prison where Johnson is awaiting his fate. Ironically the place where Johnson was living (Mississippi) was once a place where black people were slave driven by whites and were never considered to be equals.The fact that Johnson allegedly murdered a white police officer and raped a white female was a major factor against his plea for innocence. Looking at Johnson’s stay in the prison he seemed to be treated very well and was highly thought of by black and even white prison guards. However, outside the prison, within the justice system there were clear forms of racism occurring.
I think that Johnson was under a lot of scrutiny because he was black rather than because of whom he really was. In my opinion “14 Days in May” was a biased version of the facts surrounding Edward Earl Johnson and capital punishment.I thought that the content we viewed throughout this documentary was selective and didn’t portray both sides of the story.
The man they chose to follow throughout the documentary (Johnson) was an intellectual looking, a well spoken man who many of us could associate with and hence feel remorse for, and also a devoted family man. The image that is created because of these factors is that Johnson is a good person unlike our stereotype impression of a criminal. As this man seemed to be very kind and dignified, all the prison guards (that were interviewed) and his fellow inmates were all fond of him.This programme showed many scenes of Johnson with his family where he embraced them and seemed to be very fond of them and they seemed fond of him. He also sang songs with them and engaged in an emotional last meal with them. As with Johnson, all his family members appeared and spoke like dignified people. In my opinion, his family members seemed to be attempting to hide their grief when they were in contact with Johnson in an attempt to make him feel less distraught.
It appeared as though all of Johnson’s family members thought he was innocent and felt that he shouldn’t be on death row.After seeing the interviews with the prison guards, Warden, fellow inmates, lawyer and the Chaplin, we are further convinced that Johnson is innocent. Before hearing these interviews we tend to think that we were the only people who thought Johnson was innocent but afterwards we know we’re not.
The soundtrack of this documentary was very cleverly thought about. Instead of adding any music (even disturbing music) all the viewer can hear is the person being interviewed and all the background noises.The makers of the documentary have used the background noises to perfection because as we can hear these sounds like cell doors closing, shouting, and the sounds of fellow inmates, it creates a sense of claustrophobia for us the viewers and also for Johnson. We are feeling that it cannot be right for such a kind man to be living amongst these noises; we feel that he should be living in peace at home with his family.
Even when people are being interviewed we can still hear the background noises so we feel as if we are in the same position as Johnson.This programme stands out from other documentaries, as it has no narrator. Although this creates a sense of disposition, I think that there should have been some narration because in some scenes it was hard to pick up on some of the main points for or against Johnson’s innocence. I think that younger or even less abled students would not be able to appreciate this documentary. Even I got lost in some parts of it and understood information wrongly.
The setting of this documentary was a major part of its effectiveness because the prison cells were so small and seemingly impossible to break out of.The stringent security even went so far as to have a guard with a rifle posted on a tower outside preventing any inmate from escaping. The prison seemed very small, claustrophobic, and even like a place of purgatory. However, the behaviour of Johnson was always calm and collective as he was often seen playing chess, reading, and never behaving aggressively. Importantly, all the inmates who were filmed were behaving in a similar way to Johnson. Throughout this programme, the film director made appearances, showing openly how much he condemned what Johnson was going through.The most important scene with the director was when he said his final farewells and paid his last condolences to Johnson. As all the content we viewed was through the eyes of the director we almost felt as we were saying our final farewells to Johnson and in a subtle way, we were.
This is a clear example of the bias that is going on throughout this documentary. Each and every person who bids his or her distraught farewells to Johnson is trying to coax us to believe Johnson’s helpless plea of innocence.It seems like while saying goodbye to Johnson people are consoling and apologising to him as if they are helpless to prevent this (seemingly) innocent man from being executed. At the end of the documentary the Lawyer says, “It’s a sick world”. I think that he means that things happen in this world that wouldn’t happen in an ideal world.
Before hearing this we see Johnson’s last minutes before he is executed, where he is saying his tearful final farewells to his loved ones and to his lawyer. Surprisingly Johnson is still quite calm even though he is just minutes away from his death.We also see him saying his last prayers with the prison Chaplin just before he is escorted to the gas chamber. However, we do not see Johnson in the gas chamber probably because it could offend many people. Finally, at the end of this programme a short statement comes across the screen, which reads that a black woman bearing evidence for Johnson’s plea of innocence was stopped from reporting it by a white police officer. At this moment, all of our doubts about Johnson’s innocence are abolished.Now we are feeling distraught for Johnson and his family and, importantly, we are feeling anger against the people who are in favour of capital punishment. Before this text came across the screen we were feeling sorry for Johnson, however afterwards we are put in a state of shock and we suddenly relate to all the facts against capital punishment.
If an alternative view of this subject were shown on television it would be a complete contrast. First, the chosen inmate to be followed by the cameras would be a more rough looking, uneducated, and probably a violent man.There would also be no scenes of him with his family and no interviews with people wanting to praise him. Instead, he would look like a big, violent and aggressive person with a rough and streetwise personality, and he would probably have a long list of crimes already on his record. Instead of hearing positive comments about this man we would hear a lot of negative ones and some people would say how much they condemn him and how terrible the crime that he committed was. There would be scenes of him behaving aggressively or even violently.Most importantly, if allowed, they would show disturbing scenes of the victims’ family or even them grieving at his funeral.
There would also be interviews with angry relatives saying how much they despise him and how they would like to see him dead. The final words and text across the screen would also be very different. The lawyer would say something like, “Justice has been done” and the last words could be something from the Bible like, “As ye sow, so shall ye reap” which means when you do something wrong you have to face the consequences. I think that ’14 Days in May’ was very successful and was cleverly made.
It did its job very well, which was coaxing people to be against capital punishment. This documentary has completely changed my views on this subject because before I was completely in favour of capital punishment and didn’t feel any compassion towards the convicts, but now I am against it. Throughout this programme I was feeling sad and uneasy because I always feared the inevitable for Johnson.
I sympathised with his family and especially with him, so now looking at other convicts on death row I am thinking that they may be like Johnson or maybe they just deserve a second chance.