Stateless


(2019) Documentary (Hispaniola/PBS) Rosa Iris, Juan Teofilo Murat, Gladys Feliz. Directed by Michéle Stephenson

Here in the United States, we grapple with our own race relations. On the left, claims that institutional racism has kept Americans of African descent from achieving their own American dream, whereas from the right equally firm assertions that racism is individual, not institutional and that great strides have been made since the Jim Crow era.

In many ways, racism here has been a subtle presence over the past thirty years, but during the Trump administration, it became more overt. We have, in many demonstrable ways, regressed back in time. However, the racism here is nothing compared to what it is in the Dominican Republic.

In 2013, their Supreme Court handed down an astonishing decision that stripped citizenship from all Dominicans of Haitian descent going back to 1929. That left more than 200,000 people stateless – without a country, without rights. The Dominican Republic shares an island with Haiti; in the Dominican, Spanish is spoken whereas in Haiti the language is French. The Dominicans tend to be lighter-skinned; Haiti is largely populated by those of African descent. The Dominican is relatively prosperous whereas Haiti is impoverished, and what infrastructure had been there was largely reduced to rubble in the earthquake and hurricane that followed it.

The wealthy sugar cane plantations in the Dominican had long imported Haitian labor to do the brutal work in the cane fields, but in 1937, Dominican dictator Rafael Trujillo ordered the army to execute all Haitians inside the Dominican border, and they responded by not only doing that but murdering Dominican citizens of Haitian descent, even Dominicans with no Haitian blood but darker-skinned. Tens of thousands were murdered.

This Canadian-made and financed documentary follows three people; lawyer and activist Rosa Iris, whose primary job is getting citizenship for those whose citizenship was unjustly taken away. She runs for office, hoping to reverse the nationalist trend that has enveloped the Dominican. One of her clients is her cousin, Juan Teofilo Murat, one of the 200,000 affected. He is prohibited from seeing his children and has been living in Haiti, hoping to get his legal status resolved. Finally, there’s Gladys Feliz, a grandmotherly sort who represents the nationalist movement. Hers is the most chilling sequence of all; she seems on the surface to be a lovely and rational person, but then she says things that are simply horrible and clearly racist. For her, Haitians are all about robbery, rape and murder (sound familiar?) and who are out to subvert the island paradise that is the Dominican Republic.

The stories are interwoven with a folk tale-like story of a woman named Moraime, who fled the 1937 massacre. The cinematography for the Moraime sequences are almost dream-like and hauntingly beautiful, as opposed to the stark pictures of the poverty of Haiti and of the Dominican Haitians.

There is a terrifying sequence in which Rosa Iris is driving Juan Teofilo from the Haitian border to Santo Domingo to submit paperwork. Their car is stopped regularly at military checkpoints. Any one of them could result in arrest. We watch mainly through hidden cameras, the tension in the faces of the occupants of the car palpable.

Much of the latter half of the film revolves around the campaign by Rosa Iris to be elected to the national assembly, hoping to bring her activism to the halls of power. Already a target for threats of violence due to her assistance of Haitian-descended Dominicans in getting their citizenship reinstated, now becomes a target for death threats. She is concerned for not only her safety but the safety of her beguiling young son. In all honesty, while her efforts to resolve the injustice politically are noble, we end up spending more time watching her campaign than dealing with the bureaucratic hurdles that face Dominicans of Haitian descent; the meeting that Juan Teofilo has with an apathetic clerk in the records office is one of the most compelling bits in the film. His melancholy face is as memorable as Rosa Iris’ courage and heroism is.

This is a marvelous and chilling film. The United States isn’t quite this bad yet, but we were definitely on the road that leads to what we see here, and we’re not off of it yet (I was thinking that while Gladys Feliz espouses her hateful invective that it was ironic that she would likely be the sort of person that Trump’s policies would have excluded from immigrating to America). The movie, which won best Canadian feature at the recent Hot Docs festival, is also playing Tribeca this weekend. For those who aren’t able to make it to that festival, it will be airing on the wonderful PBS documentary series P.O.V. on July 19th and should be available for streaming after that. This is a movie that those who are passionate about social justice should have on their short list.

REASONS TO SEE: Rosa Iris cuts a heroic figure. The story is compelling and all-too-tragically familiar.
REASONS TO AVOID: The electioneering distracts from the central issue.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some mild profanity.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Following the election, Rosa Iris continued to receive death threats for her support of the Haitian community; she eventually requested and was granted asylum in the United States.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: PBS (effective July 19), Tribeca @ Home (through June 23)
CRITICAL MASS: As of 6/11/21: Rotten Tomatoes: 100% positive reviews; Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Citizen Penn
FINAL RATING: 7.5/10
NEXT:
P.S. Please Burn This Letter

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The First Purge


Viewers can now binge the Purge.

(2018) Thriller (Universal/BlumhouseY’lan Noel, Lex Scott Davis, Joivan Wade, Mugga, Patch Darragh, Marisa Tomei, Luna Lauren Velez, Kristen Solis, Rotimi Paul, Mo McRae, Jermel Howard, Siya, Christian Robinson, Steve Harris, Derek Basco, D.K. Bowser, Mitchell Edwards, Maria Rivera, Chyna Layne, Ian Blackman, Melonie Diaz. Directed by Gerard McMurray

 

The Purge series posits a somewhat fascist American government creating a 12=hour period annually during which all crime is legal, including murder. Those who can afford to leave, do – or they set up their homes as impenetrable fortresses. For the less wealthy, the alternative is to hunker down and ride it out, hoping the crazies won’t find them.

The latest film in the franchise (which has since also added a ten-episode “event” cable TV series, an ad for which appeared mid-credits at the film’s conclusion) goes back to the beginning, when the New Founding Fathers – the only political party standing – have emerged as the de facto rulers after an economic crisis has crippled the United States. Eager to purge the roles of welfare recipients and those getting federal assistance, they enlist a kooky psychiatrist (Tomei) to come up with a plan. The experiment is limited to Staten Island, where the government entices residents to stay by offering $5000 cash if they’ll wear contact lenses mounted with miniaturized cameras, giving everybody’s eyes a bizarre glow.

Nya (Davis) is having none of it. She sees the Purge for what it is – a racist attempt to take out the poor and the dark-skinned. Her ex-boyfriend Dmitri (Noel) is more pragmatic; he’s a drug dealer who is staying only because relocating his product would be too risky. So , with rival dealers seeing the Purge as an opportunity and other segments of the population throwing huge parties, oblivious to the danger that confronts them, and the government sending in hit squads when the violence isn’t enough to capture the imagination of the populous, Nya and Dmitri are going to have a very long night indeed.

There is no doubt that the series is allegorical, accurately predicting America’s turn towards extremism back in 2013 when the series debuted. The MAGA-like hat that decorated the poster was another clue; there’s even a reference to female genital grabbing if that isn’t enough. All in all, I’m not sure if Trump supporters are going to see this as elitist liberalism or a reactionary wet dream and respond accordingly.

The performances of the mostly unknown leads are solid enough and some of the murder scenes are cleverly staged but the movie is absolutely riddled with tropes and stock characters to the point that it becomes depressingly predictable. There are definitely signs that the franchise is losing its steam and doesn’t really have the courage of its convictions any longer. Still, those who appreciated the first three films in the series will likely appreciate this one, although they – like I – may not embrace it as a fitting addition to the franchise.

REASONS TO SEE: Some of the murder sequences are extremely effective.
REASONS TO AVOID: Too many clichés and way too predictable.
FAMILY VALUES: There is a plethora of often disturbing violence, some sexual content, profanity and drug use.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This is the first film in the franchise not to be directed by James DeMonaco. Although he did write the screenplay.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, AppleTV, Fandango Now, Fios, Google Play, Microsoft, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 11/23/19: Rotten Tomatoes: 54% positive reviews: Metacritic: 54//100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Assault on Precinct 13
FINAL RATING: 5/10
NEXT:
A Reindeer’s Journey

Informant (2012)


Is Brandon Darby considering his actions or playing the martyr?

Is Brandon Darby considering his actions or playing the martyr?

(2013) Documentary (Music Box) Brandon Darby, Scott Crow, Michael T. Stewart, Andrew Breitbart. Directed by Jamie Meltzer 

 Florida Film Festival 2013

Our belief system is usually powered by a number of different factors ranging from out upbringing, to our personal life experiences to our education. It really boils down to the things that are important to us. If it is a desire to do good for others, that’s one thing. It might be a desire to provide for yourself and/or your family. However, sometimes it’s all about one person.

Brandon Darby is not a very well-liked man these days among the radical left and that’s something of an understatement. It wasn’t always that way. He had always been mistrustful of government, leaning towards anarchism as a philosophy of politics. In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, his feelings were intensified as he felt that government on a local and state level but particularly on a national level weren’t doing the job in bringing relief to people suffering from a natural disaster.

To that end he co-founded Common Ground Relief with his close friend Scott Crow in order to speed relief to people who needed it most. As a community organizer, he became a champion in the radical left, one who was seen to have the ability to get the job done.

But through it all, despite the public face that continued to espouse the politics he always had, Brandon Darby was disillusioned. And after meetings in Venezuela in which he became further disillusioned with the politics he’d always held and after allegedly being approached to help fund a Palestinian terrorist organization, he flip-flopped.

He continued to lead Common Ground but he became an informant for the FBI. While participating in protests at the 2008 Republican National Convention in St. Paul, he became aware of a pair of eager young protestors who had plans to do far more than carry signs. They were assembling Molotov cocktails to lob at police cars, presumably with policemen in them. This, Darby felt, couldn’t stand and he turned the two young men in for which the radical right has labeled him a hero and a patriot.

Both David McKay and Bradley Crowder were convicted and jailed for their roles, but they and other leftists who were familiar with the situation tell a different tale. In their version, Darby encouraged and manipulated the men into building the devices. His motivation was to look good for the FBI and allow him to exit to the far right where he belonged.

Darby comes off as a self-centered lout who is all about Brandon Darby and nobody else. Whether this is Meltzer’s portrayal or simply Darby being Darby is up to interpretation. Meltzer livens things up with re-enactments of certain events in which Darby portrays himself. I found that the re-enactments were confusing at first but once you figured out that they were re-enactments and not archival footage (which there is also plenty of) it wasn’t hard to follow. However, I thought they weren’t necessary, or at least overused.

Still, this is a fascinating story, a leader of the far left doing a complete about face. These days Brandon Darby is one of the shining stars of the Tea Party, speaking at Tea Party functions about his heroic actions (feel free to put heroic in quotes) and writing a column for Andrew Breitbart’s website. He claims to have gotten death threats from more radical elements on the left; certainly he is despised by those who were once his friends, who show the vitriol that only the betrayed can produce.

Whether or not Darby was complicit or not in the case of McKay and Crowder is always going to be a point of contention – certainly Meltzer has his opinion and while he doesn’t explicitly say it, I think you can infer his thoughts. For my purposes, I don’t think anyone can make such a profound change in their political thinking so rapidly unless their thoughts always leaned in the new direction in the first place.

REASONS TO GO: A compelling story with compelling characters.

REASONS TO STAY: The re-enactments blur the line a bit and were occasionally confusing and unnecessary.

FAMILY VALUES:  There’s some colorful language.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Winner of the Grand Jury prize at the New York Documentary Festival.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 5/8/13: Rotten Tomatoes: no score yet. Metacritic: no score yet; has been playing the festival circuit but was recently picked up by Music Box for a summer release.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Contender

FINAL RATING: 7/10

NEXT: Iron Man 3