The documentary offers multidimensional storytelling amid facts, balancing events and personal lives without turning anyone into nameless statistics.
Directed by Brad Lichtenstein, When Claude Got Shot tells the story of Claude Motley, whose life is upended after a nearly fatal shooting. Lichtenstein follows Claude over the course of several years, through the ups and downs of life in the aftermath and up to the conclusion. The documentary offers multidimensional storytelling amid facts, balancing events and personal lives without turning anyone into nameless statistics.
When Claude Got Shot follows Claude Motley, a Black man studying to become a lawyer. He’s also a family man, married to Kim, who is an international attorney, and a father to three kids. Everything in their life changes, however, when Claude is shot in an attempted car theft gone sideways. Kim returns from her work overseas to be with her husband, who goes through a recovery period and whose face needs some reconstruction because of the bullet, and to also deal with the ongoing legal battle after Nathan King, the 15-year-old shooter, is arrested. The film also shifts slightly to tell the story of Victoria Davison, who has also been victimized by Nathan, though her story isn’t as potent or central to the documentary as Claude’s. But, it does shed more light and interconnects the various stories throughout the film.
When Claude Got Shot is a deeply personal story, but it also showcases that what happened to Claude isn’t necessarily an isolated incident. The film showcases Claude’s past living in Milwaukee and highlights how systemic racism makes the area all the more difficult for the Black community to live — underfunded schools, a lottery system where only a limited few are picked to go to more privileged schools, etc. It paints a clearer picture as to how Nathan ended up a thief with a gun in his hand and, while he’s still treated as someone who obviously committed a crime and nearly killed Claude, he’s also given some sympathy by Lichtenstein and Claude himself due to the circumstances.
Audiences will see Claude and his family go through a plethora of emotions, but it also doesn’t limit it to how they’re feeling. Rather, the film reveals the hardships beyond the shooting — thousands of dollars worth in medical bills the insurance won’t cover, the hours and hours of time spent in and out of court, Claude’s attempts to balance law school, family, and the physical and emotional aftermath of the shooting. He’s also given the space to be angry with the teenager who shot him, while also understanding that he is also a victim of the system. In that vein, Claude is somewhat passive with regards to the proceedings and his feelings surrounding the shooting. It’s almost like he isn’t entirely sure how to feel about everything and that comes through loud and clear throughout, sometimes to the detriment of the story.
To be sure, When Claude Got Shot is a nuanced exploration that isn’t showcased enough in most documentaries or fiction that involves singular shootings and something which When Claude Got Shot does incredibly well. Despite the tragedy, it’s not one-dimensional and the sadness that filters in is for several reasons that go far beyond the main subject of the documentary. Lichtenstein understands the bigger picture and it’s obvious by the way the film’s subjects go back and forth on the shooting after the shock has worn off.
However, the film can also be incredibly mellow in its execution, which leaves a lot of the tension and weariness that would come with Claude’s situation as an afterthought rather than as a central driver for the story. What’s nice is the film avoids fixating on stereotypes; it also sidesteps being sensational, which many documentary films have aimed to do. When Claude Got Shot is ultimately engaging, with a major and immediate focus on all of the consequences that stem from Claude’s shooting, while also working to provide a meaningful backstory that allows for a more multifaceted exploration overall. It’s a hard balance to maintain and the film does so pretty well for the most part.
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When Claude Got Shot had its world premiere on March 17, 2021 at the SXSW Film Festival. The film is 96 minutes long and is not yet rated.
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