‘Ferguson’ Playwright Defends Play Debunking Myths About Michael Brown Killing

“I just felt that the truth wasn’t being told,” Phelim McAleer tells TheWrap after NYC premiere

On Sunday, Phelim McAleer managed to mount a New York City production of his play “Ferguson,” a dramatic re-enactment of the grand jury deliberations surrounding police officer Darren Wilson’s 2014 shooting of teenager Michael Brown in suburban St. Louis.

By relying solely on the actual testimony that resulted in the decision not to bring criminal charges against Wilson, McAleer also debunked a lot of widely believed but factually unsubstantiated details about the case, including famously, that Brown had attempted to surrender by putting his hands up but was shot anyway.

“I just felt that the truth wasn’t being told,” McAleer told TheWrap. “I care a lot about the truth.”

The first production — a staged reading in Los Angeles in 2015 — did not go nearly as well, with nine members of the cast walking out. One of those actors was Philip Casnoff, who said at the time that he didn’t trust McAleer’s motives. 

“It felt like the purpose of the piece was to show, ‘Of course he was not indicted — here’s why,'” Casnoff told the Los Angeles Times.

Casnoff’s representatives did not return request for comment from TheWrap. Two other actors involved in the original production did not immediately respond to request for comment.

McAleer, a conservative who has co-directed documentaries challenging climate science and anti-fracking activists, said that the L.A. actors were more concerned about preserving a false narrative than truth.

“It’s a very interesting psychological phenomenon. They are so attached to that narrative, that story,” he said. “Actors aren’t as brave as they’d like to think they are.”

Indeed, the U.S. Department of Justice has challenged the widely held belief that Brown said, “Hands up, don’t shoot.”

Per the Department of Justice:

Although there are several individuals who have stated that Brown held his hands up in an unambiguous sign of surrender prior to Wilson shooting him dead, their accounts do not support a prosecution of Wilson. As detailed throughout this report, some of those accounts are inaccurate because they are inconsistent with the physical and forensic evidence; some of those accounts are materially inconsistent with that witness’s own prior statements with no explanation, credible for otherwise, as to why those accounts changed over time. Certain other witnesses who originally stated Brown had his hands up in surrender recanted their original accounts, admitting that they did not witness the shooting or parts of it, despite what they initially reported either to federal or local law enforcement or to the media. Prosecutors did not rely on those accounts when making a prosecutive decision.

“Wilson was justified in shooting Brown,” the Washington Post’s Jonathan Capehart said after the report was released in 2015.

“I am a journalist, I grew up in Northern Ireland. Human rights and civil rights were a thing when I was growing up,” said McAleer. “I also have some experience with excessive paramilitary-style policing.”

To create “Ferguson,” McAleer spent six weeks analyzing the known facts in the case, synthesizing nearly 5,000 pages of actual grand jury testimony.

The New York premiere, which played to a small but packed house, went largely without a hitch.

“No one dropped out. We are a pretty tight knit cast, headed by our director Jerry Dixon, who brought a real sense of leadership and purpose to this production,” Ian Campbell Dunn who played Darren Wilson, told TheWrap. “Everyone was together in seeking out how to portray that truthfully for ourselves as actors, and as human beings.”