Stephanie Miodus, MA
Frank Farley, PhD
A Review of Parkland: Inside Building 12; Director: Charlie Minn
Parkland: Inside Building 12 is a documentary about the devastating school shooting on February 14, 2018 at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. As the movie title suggests, the shooting took place in Building 12 of the school, a primarily freshman building with around 900 students inside. In approximately 6 minutes, 17 students and staff members were killed during the shooting and another 17 people were injured. This mass school shooting is one of far too many that plague recent American history and this documentary gives viewers a look inside the events of that tragic day from the perspective of those inside the building, not unlike the recent documentary on the Columbine shooting of 19 years earlier (Farley & Miodus, 2019).
One thing this film did well is flip the script on the typical narrative of school shootings and instead it places the focus on the survivors and victims’ families rather than the shooter. It is a common criticism after school shootings, and mass shootings in general, that too much media attention is given to the shooter. It is often suggested that this media attention glorifies the shooter and may potentially spark the rise of copycat shooters who are seeking similar attention. In fact, this could be argued in the case of the Parkland shooting where just prior, the shooter researched the Columbine shooting and released a video stating, “When you see me on the news, you’ll all know who I am.” This suggests the need for media guidelines outlining best practices when reporting on school shootings (see also Farley & Miodus, 2019).
This documentary, however, strayed from placing most of the attention on the shooter and presented the story that deserves to be told—the one from the perspective of the survivors and victims’ families, even offering an individual profile of the life of each victim. This is especially fitting for the students of Parkland because following the tragedy, these students played a large role in the media through their strong advocacy for gun control and school safety legislation. The students even went as far as to play a key role in organizing the March for Our Lives, a movement that continues to advocate for change that will result in preventative measures to stop gun violence. The organization’s demonstration that took place in Washington, DC was depicted at the end of the film.
While the stories of the survivors and the victims’ families were impactful and heart-wrenching, the film overall unfortunately falls short. This was especially disappointing considering that the survivors of this tragedy deserve a platform for their stories to be presented with careful consideration of their trauma and the events of that day and their impact. The eerie music throughout the film was overly dramatic when the sadness of the events truly can speak for itself through the survivors’ stories. Hearing the testimonies of a student hiding under a dead body and another student covered in a classmate’s blood did not require suspenseful music which took away from the focus of the film. Another sensational aspect of the film that was distracting from the main message was odd depictions of running through the halls and recreations of the shooter’s path throughout the school. When the film’s director, Charlie Minn, interviewed the survivors throughout the documentary, he seemed to mostly be sticking to a script of leading questions that fit with the film he had already planned rather than taking the lead of the survivors and using their responses to shape the other pieces of the film.
Still, within the context of the interviews, some interesting psychological trends were displayed, although it would have been interesting if the director would have dug into these more deeply. One trend among the interviews was the concept of habituation—the sad reality that people have grown more accustomed to the idea of school shootings and seeing guns and violence. The fact that the school had an active shooter drill earlier the same day unfortunately left some of the survivors thinking that the actual shooting was just another drill. One teacher even saw the smoke in the hall and heard the gunshots and still only thought that the school had gone to great lengths to make the drill look realistic. It was not until he saw his student shot on the ground that he realized that this was a real shooting. One of the fall-outs of the Columbine school massacre was the idea of active shooter drills which have experienced wide-spread adoption. A general problem not deeply considered in this Parkland documentary is what at the school level might have worked to prevent this shooting or reduce its effects. Gun control was well-championed post-massacre by many survivors. On-site security, the site-hardening idea, and other ideas, have received attention, but it would have been valuable to hear more on the perspectives of these front-line survivors. It was also interesting to see a trend that the students turned to social media during their distress during the shooting. Many students, for example, posted videos on Snapchat of them hiding while gunshots can be heard in the background, the pervasive screen life in the face of death!
This film in general left many gaps in the discussion by failing to delve more deeply into the impact of the shooting and using overly dramatic additions that distracted from the stories of the students and staff. The devastation of that day was clear and heartbreaking, but the survivors, victims, and their families deserved a better presentation and documentary.
As a footnote to this Parkland tragedy, the second author (Frank Farley) was teaching an undergraduate course, The Meaning of Madness (a most relevant subject…) at the time of the event. He asked his students if they would like to write notes to the survivors. The response was immediate and overwhelming, and 50 heartfelt, sensitive and beautiful letters of sympathy, empathy and love went to Parkland. The cover letter to Principal Thompson read “My Temple University undergraduate class “The Meaning of Madness” has written these cards for your students, teachers and staff in the wake of your terrible tragedy. Most of these students were high school students themselves a year or so ago and are expressing their great concern, sympathy and solidarity with all the wonderful people of Marjory Stoneman Douglas. Our love and support go out to all members of your school family. With best wishes for the future.”
Farley, F. & Miodus, S. (2019) From the Heart of Darkness to the Light of Day: Memory Speaks. The Amplifier Magazine, Spring Issue. https://wp.me/p466Vh-wB