Out of Omaha


Twin sons of different others.

(2018) Documentary (DreamvilleDarcell Trotter, Darell “Rell” Trotter, Wayne Brown, Barbara Robinson, Yono Jones, Eric Lofton, Anthony Beasley, Dr. Jef Johnston, Dazmi Casterjon, Yvonne Beasley, Kenneth Scott, Christopher Trotter, Anthony Kellogg, Aubrey Caballero, Shay Murph-Bookhardt, Keiara Ritchie.  Directed by Clay Tweel

 

After the formation of the Black Lives Matter movement, many on the right – some well-meaning, I grant you – responded back that “All Lives Matter.”

They’re missing the point.

African-Americans in this country have been marginalized ever since being delivered here in chains. They may no longer be the property of plantation owners but they are marginalized by poverty, by a lack of opportunity and an excess of suspicion. They are put into ghettos where crime and despair run rampant and even should they manage to get an education and become pillars of the community, they can expect to be pulled over with regularity by the police or have neighbors call the cops when they are working in the garage of their own home.

No matter the size of the city, the racial divide is palpable. Omaha, Nebraska isn’t exactly a megalopolis but it is a good-sized Midwestern city that prides itself on its heartland values. Those values seem to end at the border of North Omaha, the poverty-stricken African-American community which is plagued by gang violence and drugs. Into this world twin brothers Darcell and Darell Trotter were born.

Omaha has one of the highest per-capita murder rates in the country, largely thanks to the violence in North “O.” It also has a high concentration of millionaires living in lovely split-level homes surrounded by beautifully manicured lawns. The Trotter twins knew nothing of that other Omaha. Their reality was the gangs and drugs of the north side.

Documentary filmmaker Clay Tweel, who has been responsible for films such as Gleason and Make Believe, spent seven years off and on filming the twins as they try to escape the poverty and hopelessness of their environment. Primarily focusing on Darcell’s story, the film watches him leave the gang life which consumed his brother Rell and the drug addiction which trapped his father Shane, taking advantage of a program called Avenue Scholars which allowed him to attend the University of Nebraska Omaha in pursuit of a music production degree with an eye on becoming a hip-hop producer and entrepreneur.

However, he is fated to be in the wrong place at the wrong time when he attends a party in which a violent robbery takes place. Despite the fact that he left at the first sign of trouble, he is identified as one of those involved and his face is plastered all over a Crimestoppers segment on the local news. When Darcell, whose loyalty to his friends was forged as a gang member where it was drilled into him that you never give up your friends, refuses to name the other people involved, he is sent to jail, a scared 19-year-old kid in a scary place. Eventually the charges are dropped but the damage is done.

He moves in with his brother and their father in Grand Island, Nebraska, 150 miles away. With an African-American population that makes up just 2% of the total population, they are looked upon with some suspicion but both of them work hard and start to make something of themselves. Their father, hooked on heroin, abandons them, leaving them with nowhere to live. Aubrey Caballero, the mom of their friend Ricky, takes the two boys in.

The boys are accused of sexual assault which once again puts them on the front page of the local news but their accuser recants and admits that she made up her story. Their exoneration gets absolutely no coverage at all – go ahead and Google Darcell’s name and see what comes up – which leaves them with a blight on their record. Nevertheless, they both continue to work hard and when Darcell fathers a young daughter, he finds reservoirs of strength he never knew he had.

The movie is enormously powerful in the sense that you get a first-hand look at what young African-American men are facing; how their opportunities are restricted by poverty and racial profiling, and yet both of the twins aspire to something better for themselves, the comforts of life that those who grew up in comfortable suburban lives take for granted. Tweel is non-judgmental about the choices the brothers make (and they aren’t always wise ones), not making excuses for their poor choices but neither blaming them for them. In many ways they are conditioned to see the world through a sheen in which the only escape from the hopelessness is through drugs and crime. Tweel has come a long way as a filmmaker over the years and this might just be his best film yet.

This is very much a cinema verité experience as the camera follows the boys and watches their story unfold. There are a few interviews, such as with Wayne Brown, a man who with his wife Niki managed to get out of North Omaha and become respected professionals but still had to put up with police officers pulling them over every few days while driving to work. Mostly, though, this is the story of two boys who grow up to be men but never lose their hope for something better despite everything thrown their way. While the movie ends on a hopeful note – the twin brothers are preparing to open up their own appliance store in Grand Island – it may not be an earth-shattering triumph but considering the journey they took to get there, it is as inspiring a story as any epic tale.

REASONS TO SEE: Tweel is growing as a filmmaker. Unvarnished cinema verité.
REASONS TO AVOID: There is nothing really game-changing here.
FAMILY VALUES: There is a shitload of profanity, some drug use and descriptions of violence.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The film was executive produced by rising hip-hop star J. Cole.
BEYOND THE THEATER: Amazon, Fandango Now, Google Play, iTunes, Starz, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 10/1/19: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet: Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Princess of the Row
FINAL RATING: 7.5/10
NEXT:
The Game Changers

Pick of the Litter – October 2019


BLOCKBUSTER OF THE MONTH

Joker

(Warner Brothers) Joaquin Phoenix, Robert De Niro, Marc Maron, Zazie Beetz. Before he became the arch-nemesis of the Batman, Joker was Arthur Fleck, a man overlooked by society who followed a path to villainy and madness. The movie is the first “standalone” DC film, not a part of their Extended Universe. October 4

INDEPENDENT PICKS

Lucy in the Sky

(Fox Searchlight) Natalie Portman, Jon Hamm, Zazie Beetz, Dan Stevens. An astronaut returns home after a transcendent experience during a mission in space only to find that the world is no long enough for her. October 4

Pain and Glory

(Sony Classics) Antonio Banderas, Penelope Cruz, Asier Exteandia, Julieta Serrano. A world-renowned film director reflects on his life and the choices he’s made as both his past and present are crashing down around him. This newest film by Spanish legend Pedro Almodovar was a sensation at the most recent Cannes Film Festival and has been lauded as his best work in years. October 4

Fantastic Fungi

(Self-Released) Brie Larson (narrator), Paul Stamets, Tony D. Head, Michael Pollan. Beneath our feet is the magnificent mushroom and other fungi. These organisms can feed us, expand our consciousness and have surprising medicinal value. As the film explores the enthusiasm of mycologists – scientists who study fungi – it turns out that the lowly fungus may be the key to saving the planet. October 11

Parasite

(NEON) Kang-ho Song, Sun-kyun Lee, Yeo-jyong Jo, Woo-sik Choi. A poor Korean family latches on to a wealthy one, providing “luxury services” for them and in return receiving financial survival. When a parasitic interloper threatens the poor family’s standing, they go to war to keep their cash cow alive. This is the latest from acclaimed Korean director Joon-ho Bong. October 11

Jay and Silent Bob Reboot

(Saban) Jason Mewes, Kevin Smith, Matt Damon, Ben Affleck. The legendary stoners return after an absence of I-can’t-remember-how-many years when they hear the despicable movie made based on their comic book characters is about to be rebooted. Characters from throughout the View Askew Universe guest star. October 15

Cyrano, My Love

(Roadside Attractions) Thomas Solivėres, Olivier Gourmet, Mathilde Seigner, Tom Leeb. This French comedy follows Edmond Rostand as he struggles to write a play that will eventually become symbolic of France itself.. October 18

Jojo Rabbit

(Fox Searchlight) Roman Griffin Davis, Taika Waititi, Sam Rockwell, Scarlett Johansson. A young boy, a soldier in the army of Nazi Germany, discovers that his mother is hiding a young Jewish girl in her attic Did I mention that his imaginary friend is Adolph Hitler? October 18

The Laundromat

(Netflix) Meryl Streep, Gary Oldman, Antonio Banderas, Sharon Stone. A recent widow, investigating insurance fraud, discovers that the money trail leads back to a pair of Panama City, Florida law partners who have been exploiting the financial system to keep their uber-wealthy clients rich while screwing the middle and lower classes. This new Steven Soderbergh film is based on true events. October 18

The Lighthouse

(A24) Willem Dafoe, Robert Pattinson, Valeria Karaman. Two lighthouse keepers on a remote island off the coast of New England in the 1890s make a startling discovery which leads to horrifying consequences. October 18

My Name is Dolemite

(Netflix) Eddie Murphy, Wesley Snipes, Snoop Dogg, Keegan-Michael Key. The story of Rudy Ray Moore, a legendary black comic and original rapper whose Kung Fu pimp Dolemite became a Blaxploitation film cult favorite. The movie will undergo a brief theatrical run at the beginning of the month before moving over to Netflix. October 25

Kill Team

(A24) Nat Wolff, Alexander Skarsgǻrd, Rob Morrow, Adam Long. A soldier under the command of a sadistic squad leader witnesses the murder of civilians but as his team learns that someone has informed military authorities, he becomes increasingly concerned that his own squad might just kill him. Based on the incredible true story portrayed in a documentary of the same name that played the Florida Film Festival back in 2013. October 25