Wednesday, May 21, 2008

More on Race, Politics, and Dare Not Walk Alone

Carrying on from the previous post about racism that has surfaced during the Obama primary campaign, it is useful to ask where the racism resides. Dare Not Walk Alone paints a disturbing picture of one Florida community where the effects of past racism are still felt, even though none of the local officials in power there today could be described as racist.

The film quotes some pretty stark statistics that present a local snapshot of the racial divide 40 years after the first civil rights act was signed into law. One statistic that was not included in the film: infant mortality rates. Across America as a whole, black babies are nearly 2.5 times more likely than white babies to die before reaching their first birthday; but things were worse than that for black babies born in St. Johns County in the period just prior to the movie being made (2002-2004). Their mortality rate was 18.2 per 1,000 live births, way lower than the rate of 74.4 in Haiti but worse than Albania, Fiji, Grenada, and Vietnam to name a few). That number of 18.2 is also pretty dismal compared to an overall US average of 6.8 and a rate of 5.2 for white babies born in St. Johns County (these numbers are from the CDC, CIA, and PRB).

It has to be said that, following new initiatives by both the state and non-profit groups, the infant mortality rate for black babies born in St Johns County appears to have been reduced in the last couple of years. However, there is still a black/white divide both locally and nationally. That's not a political statement but a fact. Where things get political is when you talk about why the gap exists and what should be done to close it. As with the black/white unemployment gap, some responses are potentially incendiary, like: "Those kids should get jobs instead of hanging out on the corners." Reaction to a statement like that can vary, depending on the race of the person making it. But whoever says it needs to bear in mind that getting a job is easier said than done, at least in some parts of America.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Racism in the Raw: Obama campaigners run into reality

With so much going on in the presidential primaries this story did not get much notice: Racism alarms Obama backers - Washington Post. The central fact of the story, that folks doing grass roots campaigning for Senator Barack Obama have encountered overt racism, will come as a surprise to some people, but not to others.

Try making a movie about race in America today and you learn a lot about how people really feel. You find that there's a fair amount of racial prejudice just beneath the surface. Scratch the surface, for example, just by bringing up the subject, and you can get you an earful. So you have to expect the same to be true for a black person taking a run at the presidency. While some white folks are clearly quite happy to vote for a black president, for others it may just be too much, and that's a sad reflection on our country.

When Dare Not Walk Alone played in Los Angeles last month, here's what the Film Journal critic said: "The racial politics of the current presidential election make this film all the more significant." So, does this make Dare Not Walk Alone a political film?

That's a hard question to answer because politics, like beauty, can be in the eye of the beholder. The film does not preach. There is no narrator making statements. This is not a Michael Moore style documentary. Jeremy Dean lets the events and the people involved speak for themselves. (As Variety noted "Dean's ability to explore history through such a local nexus creates a uniquely intimate document.")

But that doesn't mean some of what is said in the film is not controversial. When a black US congresswoman compares parts of St. John's County, one of the wealthiest counties in Florida, home to the nation's 'oldest city' and The Players Championship, with Haiti, you can bet that riled some white politicians in the county. But then a former politician [white] describes the deplorable lack of proper sanitation. And the camera captures some scenes that are not staged and not very pretty. In the end, most people are going to get the idea that things are far from rosy and the filmmaker is not just making this up.

Is life like that for all African Americans? No. Do all white people think black people complain too much? No. Do all black people think white people can't be trusted? No. Will carrying an Obama sign while white teach you something about race in America? Probably, it pretty much depends where you are carrying it.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Packs a Punch! What critics are saying about Dare Not Walk Alone

Here is the cream of the Los Angeles reviews for Dare Not Walk Alone which played there last week.

"Powerful slice of roiling American history" -- LA Times

"Packs a punch" -- LA Weekly

"Mesmerizing and heart-rending" -- L.A. City Beat

"Dean's ability to explore history through such a local nexus creates a uniquely intimate document." -- Variety

"The racial politics of the current presidential election make this film all the more significant." -- Film Journal

"Clear-eyed look at the adversaries of Martin Luther King Jr.’s utopian “dream”...reminds us that, for far too many Americans of color, “free at last” has meant trading one sociological prison for another." -- LA Weekly

"Has great potential to do real good in the world" -- Boxoffice

"A very strong comment on the capacity of people to ascend from their suffering." -- Boxoffice

"Dean handles the historical material with skill, insidiously intercutting vintage travel promos touting St. Augustine's tourist-friendly beaches with sequences of mass chaos in the same locations." -- Variety

"More than just another civil-rights history lesson. This thoughtful documentary brings alive a disturbing time in American history." -- Film Journal

Friday, May 02, 2008

So Long LA and Thanks for all the Reviews

We want to send out a big THANK YOU to all the DNWA supporters in the Greater Los Angeles area who came out to see the film. Thanks to you, will look set to open in several more cities [details will be posted here on the blog].

The Los Angeles engagement showed that DNWA, made on the kind of budget that doesn't even register on Hollywood's radar, can hold its own in the heart of commercial movie country AND come away with some solid reviews. Very few independent documentaries get this many reviews from major publications.

In fact, the film is currently scoring 100% on the review roundup web site known as Rotten Tomatoes, with 5 positive to 0 negative. And we're talking big name reviewers here, like the Los Angeles Times and Variety. In a few days we will post some of the comments from these reviews, comments that should help the film gain even more "buzz" in the next engagement.

Not that we all agree with all of the reviewers. Many of them don't seem to 'get' the way the second half of the movie works. One could say "it doesn't work for them" but bear in mind most reviewers watch the film on DVD, not in a cinema where you can feel and hear the audience reaction to the film. In our experience a lot of people who see the film in theaters 'get' the material, even though it can be jarring, even disturbing. If you want to check out the reviews, you will find links to them at Rotten Tomatoes.