In 2009, New York-basked photographer Gillian Laub ventured down to Georgia’s Montgomery and Toombs counties, two neighboring areas about 200 miles southeast of Atlanta. Her mission? To document the area’s segregated proms, which she planned on turning into a film.
However, after she got to the small, Southern counties, a tragic new story unfolded, one that she captures in her new HBO documentary, Southern Rites, directed by Laub and executive-produced by John Legend.
In January 2011, Justin Patterson, a Black 22-year-old, was fatally shot by Norman Neesmith, a White man who was unaware that Patterson had been invited into Neesmith’s house by his biracial great-niece. Clad with a shotgun, Neesmith demanded that Patterson, along with his younger brother, who was also in the house, leave, but when the brothers ran, Neesmith began firing shots. Patterson died in a nearby field.
Through a series of interviews and photographs, Laub documents the entire tragedy—from the 911 call to the aftermath of the shooting—as well as the unpublicized segregation ruling the town.
“This is a story that needs to be told,” Laub said in a press release. “This film is about giving a voice to the people of Montgomery and Toombs counties. This is their narrative.”
Southern Rites premieres Monday, May 18 at 9 p.m. ET/PT on HBO.