‘Ferguson’ Reading Blasts ‘Hands Up, Don’t Shoot’ Media Narrative

McAleer made Ferguson grand jury come to life in D.C.

Ferguson the play’s focus was almost as dark as the walls surrounding the stage: the media’s twisted narrative. 

On April 15, Washington D.C. hosted the first public reading of excerpts from Ferguson play on April 15 in a dramatization of the Michael Brown shooting. The Atlas Performing Arts Center performance starred D.C. lawyers as Grand Jury attorneys, and debunked the media’s “hands up, don’t shoot” narrative. There wouldn’t be a need for the play, writer Phelim McAleer announced at the event, “if journalists had done their job.”

Written by filmmaker Phelim McAleer, Ferguson draws from grand-jury witness testimony. The full play premieres on stage April 26 through 29 at the Odyssey Theatre in Los Angeles – and asks the audience to play jury.

Ferguson will appear in the “verbatim” or “truth” theater style. In other words, the audience will receive “unaltered testimony, exactly as the Ferguson grand jury heard it,” a previous press release read

McAleer’s press release announcing the D.C. event billed Ferguson as “the play that will show the truth the mainstream media is trying to hide about the shooting death of Michael Brown.” 

The reading did that first and foremost by dismissing the media’s “hands up, don’t shoot” narrative.

From the beginning, the reading’s prosecutor Robert McCulloch warned against believing the media’s account. 

“Now you haven’t heard a single thing yet other than what’s been in the media, and believe me, that’s not evidence,” he told the jury – the audience. “Don’t form any opinion on anything you’ve heard,” he urged, and “keep an open mind.” 

Going against the media narrative, two African-American eyewitnesses (Keira Jenkins and Mary Adams) played by actresses repeatedly confirmed that Brown’s hands never went up during the reading.

“Why won’t he stop, why won’t that boy stop?” Adams recalled when seeing Brown go towards officer Darren Wilson. “There are certain things you do and don’t do when you’re approached by an authority.” 

An actor playing Wilson also made an appearance to defend his actions. 

“I keep telling [Brown] to go to the ground and he doesn’t,” he said, and so he began “backpedaling” to avoid getting hurt. 

As for the hands, Wilson stressed that Brown’s left hand was in a fist while his right hand was tucked in his waistband.

“He didn’t” raise his hands up, Wilson said. Instead, Brown “started to lean forward” as if to “tackle” him. 

An eyewitness confirmed, “He wasn’t staggering, he was charging” like for a “football tackle” and decided, “I feel like the officer was in the right.” 

At the end of the 20-minute reading, McAleer called out the media. 

“If journalists had done their job,” he argued, “this play wouldn’t be needed.” 

At another point, he criticized, “Journalists have a duty to ask questions and they didn’t do it.” They were “stenographers for liars instead of investigative journalists” who merely repeated what they heard.

McAleer noted that the upcoming L.A. showing was “getting media, but not as much as it deserves” – because of the story. Through crowdfunding, he aims to “bring [the play] to Ferguson itself.” 

McAleer hopes to raise $93,000 for his play through crowdfunding site Indiegogo located at FergusonThePlay.com. “This is a story that deserves to be told,” McAleer wrote on Indiegogo, “[a]nd FERGUSON shows the audience something the media won't: The Truth.” 

An expert at crowdfunding, McAleer previously used Indiegogo to fund the site’s most successful movie: Gosnell, a crime drama on convicted Philadelphia abortionist Kermit Gosnell. McAleer also used Kickstarter to fund fracking documentary FrackNation.


— Katie Yoder is Staff Writer, Joe and Betty Anderlik Fellow in Culture and Media at the Media Research Center. Follow Katie Yoder on Twitter.