A powerful new documentary is shining a light on police corruption and gentrification in Denver's Black communities.
The Holly follows the story of Terrance Roberts, an activist who founded a successful youth program in a Denver neighborhood after spending time in prison for gang activity. In 2013, Roberts was accused of shooting a former gang member at a peace rally, drawing national media attention.
Director Julian Rubinstein grew up in Denver and moved back to investigate the case and the history of the area. He tells Sonia Baghdady of Advocate Now that he "was kind of standing in the middle of what felt like a crime in progress, not just reporting on a crime that had happened."
'The Holly' Creators | Advocate Now
"It was really kind of like riding a bull for a while," Rubinstein says. "I started to realize right away that in the community there was another story that was understood to have been what happened, than what was being projected and broadcast in the media. And there was a lot of coverage of it. At the beginning, it was partly about trying to find out the real story and actually tell an alternate story of what was sort of being told."
Executive Producer Damon Davis shares that because he comes "from a similar neighborhood," he "thought it was a super important story" to tell. He also describes Roberts as "an incredible person" who consistently rose above his material conditions and strove to foster community.
"He was a former gang banger and all that, because those are the circumstances and opportunities that were allowed to him and to many other people that come from environments like we come from. And that's not a defining factor," Davis says. "Once you see the fact that, the film is not so much a defining fact about who he is, [but rather] that he's a person that's extremely intelligent, extremely compassionate, and found a way to overcome different adversities. And I think that's the important thing."
The Holly | Trailer
Rubinstein adds that Roberts' story is emblematic of the difficulties facing many underserved communities across the United States, most of which are primarily Black and low-income. The director says this effect is generational, and reflects the policies that have continuously impacted these areas.
"I felt like [Roberts] was just like oozing this kind of energy that wasn't just from him, but almost from decades and even generations of what so many black men have gone through and struggled with," Rubinstein says. "And what he'd been through, what his family had been through, what his community had been through, was so symbolic of all of that."
Davis wants audiences to leave the documentary with a new perspective around the case, and even around the nature of power in society. He hopes that they reflect on their own place in society, and their ability to affect change.
"The perceptions that we have around power [are] usually around money," Davis explains, adding, "Terrence is showing the level of power that he has and he ain't got the money, but he'd go straight up in the community and [build] with the people. And that, to me, shows that the real power is with the people. ... The fact that he even is shaking things up to that degree shows you that we, as regular citizens, have way more power than we give ourselves."
The Holly is available now on Hulu. For more interviews like this, watch Advocate Now on The Advocate Channel.