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September 12, 2023

Documentary exploring former Pa. state Rep. Movita Johnson-Harrell's grief and activism to debut on PBS this fall

'Murders That Matter' looks at the Philadelphia mother's work to uplift her community after her son was shot and killed in 2011

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Murders That Matter Provided Image/Adam J. Segal

'Murders That Matter,' a documentary that follows Movita Johnson-Harrell, a former Pennsylvania state representative who lost her son to gun violence, will debut on PBS on Oct. 2.

A documentary focused on a Philadelphia mother's grief after her son was murdered, and how she used that pain to become a community activist, is set to air on PBS this fall.

"Murders That Matter" chronicles Movita Johnson-Harrell, formerly a representative from West Philadelphia in the Pennsylvania House, in the years following her son's 2011 murder. It also looks at her establishment of The Charles Foundation, which works to improve the lives of young people in disadvantaged neighborhoods and to pass gun control legislation.

The film, which was directed Marco Williams, will air on PBS' "POV" TV series on Monday, Oct. 2 at 10 p.m. It will also be available to stream on the PBS app until Christmas.

Johnson-Harrell's son, Charles Johnson, was killed in Philadelphia on Jan. 12, 2011 as he was sitting in a car waiting for his sister. An investigation by Philly police concluded that Johnson was murdered in a case of mistaken identity. 

"This story is of immense importance to me," Williams said. "I know firsthand the pain and invisibility of murder in the African American community. Tragically, a story of violence in the family is probably not uncommon for many African American families."

Johnson-Harrell elevated her community by organizing walks and with The Charles Foundation, which stands for "Creating Healthy Alternatives Results in Less Emotional Suffering." She worked as an interim supervisor of victim services with the District Attorney's Office before becoming a Pennsylvania House representative.

She first ran to represent the 190th district in 2016 on a campaign focused on gun control and violence reduction, although she lost to incumbent Vanessa L. Brown. However, in March 2019, Johnson-Harrell was awarded the 190th district representative seat following a special election and Brown's resignation due to being convicted on corruption and bribery charges. Johnson-Harrell was the first female Muslim member of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives.

In December 2019, Johnson-Harrell resigned from her post as a state representative due to her own corruption conviction. She was sentenced to three months in jail and another 8 1/2 months of house arrest for stealing $500,000 from her nonprofit and using it for personal gain. 

"The trajectory of one woman's life story and journey brings into sharp relief the tragedy plaguing African American communities throughout the United States — the endemic of murders unspoken, but by a few," Williams said. "'Murders That Matter' is a call to all that there are many murders that matter in our country. I am excited and honored to return to POV with my latest documentary. POV is the premiere strand for documentaries. There isn't a better home for the film."

"POV" is a series that presents documentary films focusing on social issues. Since premiering in 1988, it has won 38 Emmys, 22 Peabody Awards and three Oscars. 

"We're committed to sharing Movita Johnson-Harrell's story; her trauma is undeniably human and, sadly, too common, underreported, and often mischaracterized in the media," said Erika Dilday, "POV" executive director. "Her transformation from victim to trauma-informed policy advocate unfolds in this moving and beautifully crafted portrait."