American Violet (review)

Lest we forget, the slide into a fascism in America didn’t begin with George W. Bush: it was well underway in the 1990s, when our police went paramilitary in the “war on drugs” and new federal incentives for local communities to get drug convictions — however they could — led to a huge increase in the U.S. prison population… mostly minorities on minor possession charges, many of whom may not have been guilty of even that. This true story from the front of that other war — on civil rights — is an angry, old-fashioned, and very, very welcome polemic for a return to basic Constitutionality (like that pesky guarantee of a jury of one’s peers) and against that other American tradition: racism. In November 2000, Dee Roberts (beautifully passionate Nicole Beharie), a young black woman raising four lovely daughters with the help of her mother (Alfre Woodard [Beauty Shop], always a treat) in the projects of small-town Texas, is swept up in a shockingly aggressive raid by a local police drug taskforce. She’s so innocent that she believes, at first, that she’s been arrested because of her parking tickets. I won’t spoil more than that, except to note that in a county where the white district attorney (Michael O’Keefe: Frozen River) “rules like a king” and even the progressive local lawyer (Will Patton: Wendy and Lucy) keeps his head down, it takes an apparently mild-mannered but not-so-secretly zealous ACLU attorney (Tim Blake Nelson [The Incredible Hulk], the flick’s heart as much as Beharie) from way outside to even attempt to set things right. Though classic in its telling of a David-and-Goliath tale, Bill Haney’s script is not so simple as to offer a totally comfortable resolution, and director Tim Disney avoids easy sentimentality in favor of a hard truth: that similar offenses against American citizens are still occurring today, all over the U.S. As outraged as this quietly fiery film is, it cannot be outraged enough.

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