A film by Travis Wilkerson
2017, 90 minutes
No. 159



“In 1946, my great-grandfather murdered a black man named Bill Spann and got away with it.” So begins Travis Wilkerson’s critically-acclaimed, immensely powerful documentary, Did You Wonder Who Fired the Gun?, which takes us on a journey through the American South to uncover the truth behind a horrific incident and the societal mores that allowed it to happen.

Acting as guide and narrator, Wilkerson begins in Dothan, Alabama, where he interviews civil rights activist Ed Vaughn, as well as local residents, and his own family members. His questioning soon leads to uncomfortable confrontations from both residents in town and his own family, along with real threats of violence. Haunting 8mm home movies (of his great-grandfather) reveal further buried secrets, including the possibility of another crime.

Did You Wonder Who Fired the Gun? is a personal investigation into our collective history; a look at how events form the past can reverberate into the future. Wilkerson deftly interweaves scenes from To Kill a Mockingbird, the music of Janelle Monáe and Phil Ochs, and the story of Rosa Parks’ investigation into the case of Recy Taylor, with his own family history, to create an extraordinary, landmark work.

Official Selection, New York Film Festival
Official Selection, Sundance Film Festival
Official Selection, True / False Film Fest

"An urgent, often corrosive look at America’s past and present through the prism of family, patriarchy, white supremacy and black resistance.” 
– Manohla Dargis, The New York Times

Critic’s Pick! “A scorching and rigorous essay… a passionately political film, aflame with rage… It is also a horror movie, full of specters and silences and a terror that is pervasive, intimate, and elusive… Mr. Wilkerson is above all concerned with unpacking the mechanisms of racial domination. The procedure is akin to… digging up a buried land mine that has lost little of its explosive power.” 
– A.O. Scott, The New York Times

"Intense, mesmerizing, and heartbreaking. It’s hard to experience Did You Wonder Who Fired the Gun? and not get shivers up your spine — from fear, from anger, and from the beauty of Wilkerson’s filmmaking." 
– Bilge Ebiri, The Village Voice

“Extraordinary. Travis Wilkerson’s fusion of personal, historical, and investigative filmmaking in which he searches for traces of a racist murder committed by his great-grandfather is among the best documentaries in recent years” 
– Richard Brody, The New Yorker

“A surprising, discursive, form-expanding work of art. A searing, one-of-a-kind creation.” 
– Scott Tobias, NPR

“A story both highly personal and unfailingly universal… At a moment when Oscar winner Moonlight explores race from new storytelling angles, Wilkerson adds an important voice to the chorus.” 
– Steven Zeitchik, LA Times

"One of the strongest works at a chilling Sundance Film Festival. Wilkerson doesn’t offer an answer. But raising the question — at this moment when families are torn apart by what they believe America is and should be — is more than enough."
– Amy Taubin, Artforum

"Armed with determination and deft camerawork, filmmaker Travis Wilkerson investigates the murder of Bill Spann, an African American man who was killed in 1946 in a rural Alabama town. The filmmaker’s soft, bluesy narration, set against tinted scenes of back roads and rundown buildings and spiritual background music, gives the program a film noir feeling. Wilkerson’s unflinching honesty as he explores the crime and the era is both moving and disturbing, setting the stage for further discussion.” 
– Booklist