“American Violet” (2009) is a film based on the true story of an American woman framed for selling drugs. A waitress and mother of four, she goes up against the powerful district attorney, the county government’s top lawyer, to get the charges dropped – a David and Goliath story.
It shows how across America the police and the courts use drug laws to look tough on crime and keep down blacks.
The film is very upsetting but very good – far better than “Precious”, which many white people and Oprah seem to think was the best black film that year.
Unlike “Precious” the pathologies are white not black: it is not poor black people who are screwed up but respected white men who are either too power-hungry or too cowardly to stand up for what they know deep down is right and good.
Over and over and over again in America the ills of society are blamed on the most powerless – on blacks and Mexicans, mostly – and rarely, for some strange reason, on the very people who run things, on the people who have the power to make it good or make it bad.
Well, thank the Lord, “American Violet” does not do that. It even manages to present poor blacks like maybe they are ordinary people and not cockroaches or clowns.
Alfre Woodard is in it – she plays the hero’s mother – so I knew it had to be good. Charles S. Dutton, another serious actor I like, played the pastor. Nicole Beharie plays the lead.
Apart from changing all the names and reducing the number of main characters, the film sticks pretty closely to the court case of Regina Kelly v John Paschall – even during the last 15 minutes. Regina Kelly is called Dee Roberts in the film and Hearne, Texas becomes Melody, Texas. The year is 2000.
The district attorney, in order “to keep the town quiet” so that whites re-elect him time and again, regularly runs paramilitary style drug raids on poor black neighbourhoods. The police arrest those the district attorney puts on a list, a list he creates by forcing false eyewitness testimony from someone who faces drug charges himself.
Despite being falsely arrested most on the list wind up accepting a plea bargain to avoid trial where they would likely get 16 to 25 years in prison because they cannot afford a good lawyer. But even so they wind up with a felony on their record, which means they cannot vote or receive public benefits (so they get kicked out of public housing, for example) and finding work becomes next to impossible.
Dee Roberts got on one of those lists because an eyewitness’s cousin was jealous of her. Fortunately for her the ACLU arrived in town just then and offered to fight her case for free. To the ACLU money was not the hard part: it was finding people, both black and white, with enough courage to stand up to the district attorney.
Dee Roberts remains the hero throughout – not some Mighty Whitey lawyer.
- Trailer: American Violet
- Roger Ebert’s review of “American Violet” – he gets some of the plot wrong and makes it seem like this stuff only goes on in Texas despite what they said in the film. He gives it three stars (“Precious” got four).
- The mass incarceration of black men
- Mighty Whitey
- Apple-pie America
- the eight stages of genocide