Arts District

New HBO Documentary Chronicles the Baltimore Uprising

We talk to actress and activist Sonja Sohn about her directorial debut.

Most notably known as Detective Kima Greggs on HBO’s hit series The Wire, Sonja Sohn couldn’t leave Baltimore behind when the show ended in 2008. Her deep connection to the community led her to begin her nonprofit, reWIRED For Change in 2009 to help at risk youth and families and now she’s poised to debut her documentary Baltimore Rising on HBO on November 20.

The 90-minute documentary follows eight local figures—activists Kwame Rose, Dayvon Love, Adam Jackson, Makayla Gilliam-Price, community leader Genard “Shadow” Barr, Baltimore Police Commissioner Kevin Davis, Lt. Colonel Melvin Russell, and police detective Dawnyell Taylor—in the aftermath of the April 2015 riots following the death of Freddie Gray in police custody.   

Filming for Baltimore Rising began in September 2015 and chronicles everything from the first day of trials for the officers charged in Freddie Gray’s death to the release of the Department of Justice’s scathing report of the Baltimore Police Department a year later.

In April 2015, Sohn was in Los Angeles working on a project when she heard what was happening in Baltimore. She wasted no time getting back to the place that held a special place in her heart to help pick up the pieces in any way she could.

“I was moved just like everybody else in the middle of everything happening,” she said. “Any time I can find myself in a position to be useful, I try to do so.”

She met with a few local activists and began discussing the possibility of creating a documentary that would provide an in-depth look into the work being done in the community. Just four months later, Sohn pitched the idea to HBO, and the rest is history.

“I really wanted to highlight the indomitable spirit and intelligence of the Baltimore grassroots community,” Sohn told Baltimore. “You don’t really see all the work that goes into the change they are trying to make—I wanted to make sure the world could see that.”

Rose is a central figure of the documentary, which we got to preview in an advanced screener, following him from his first arrest through his trials and his relationship with his family. Viewers will also get to know young activist Gilliam-Price, who struggles with what her future should look like. Another memorable scene is Davis addressing a room full of community leaders to combat the recent violence as a result of the riots. (Noticeably absent in the documentary is any mention of former BPD Commissioner Anthony Batts). 

“There’s the artist activist, there’s the policy activist, there’s the protester, and there’s the police all trying to fight for change,” Sohn said. “That’s the story we wanted to tell—a more detailed story about how we got here. The Freddie Gray situation is a part of that, but we all understand that it was a part of something even bigger.”