Blurring true crime and legal thriller, 72 SECONDS IN RITTENHOUSE SQUARE asks one of the most critical questions of our time: what does justice look like? And who, exactly, gets to decide?
This immersive limited series is a story of contrasts: life and death, freedom and incarceration, black and white, rich and poor. It’s the intertwining stories of two young men – one an aspiring rapper, one a well-off developer -whose lives collide on July 12th, 2018 in Philadelphia’s Rittenhouse Square.
Dining out in the city’s most upscale historic neighborhood, Rittenhouse feels a world away from the mean streets of West Philly.
But one sultry July night, those worlds intersected. Details were sketchy: a traffic dispute, a deliveryman, a shouting match. But one thing was clear, Sean Schellenger, a 37-year-old real estate developer, had been stabbed to death and his killer was in the wind.
Viewers are immersed in a frenzy of 911 calls, surveillance footage, and conflicting eyewitness accounts. Unexpectedly, within 48 hours, the killer turns himself in. He is twenty-year-old Michael White, a black Philadelphian with no criminal record, potentially facing first-degree murder charges for what the media depicts as the cold-blooded murder of an innocent white man.
The story takes another unexpected turn when cell phone footage emerges that calls into question the media’s predictable narrative and raises a tantalizing question: who was the real aggressor in the confrontation? Michael White or Sean Schellenger? Charges are reduced from third-degree murder to manslaughter and the trial’s outcome will leave one community boiling with rage and another satisfied that justice was done. Did the famously progressive DA play to his political base? How can the city of brotherly love heal from an incident that to this day is an open wound for many?
Shifting perspectives with a ‘Rashomon’ effect, 72 SECONDS IN RITTENHOUSE SQUARE features exclusive access to the Schellenger and White families candidly grappling with an event that has turned their lives upside down. The documentary is a provocative look at our innate biases and our deepest fears, and how ostensible facts get interpreted differently when viewed through the prism of race and class.