As a life-long Southerner, I’m aware the concept of race is something that can be as all-encompassing as one allows it to be. I can choose to walk downtown and be oblivious to the multiple Confederate monuments staring down at me, or remember there’s a lot of very angry white people around, desperate to remind everyone of their antiquated ways of thinking and so-called values the rest of us would prefer to move past. For anyone who thinks we were living in a post-racial America, the last three years should have been a blunt wake-up call. Our country and the institutions that support it continue to engage in systemic ostracizing of minorities.
Two documentaries at this year’s Cucalorus take on the topic of racism in very different ways. “Always in Season” is a brutal and damning examination of the suspected lynching of 17-year-old Lennon Lacy in nearby Bladenboro, North Carolina. Filmmaker Jacqueline Olive, who used to live in Wilmington, deftly weaves the tragedy of Lennon Lacy into a number of other nefarious lynchings and unapologetic portrayals of such heinous crimes. In 1934, Claude Neal was accused of raping a white woman, prompting a mob to show up to torture and lynch him without due process. The Claude Neal lynching is particularly disturbing because of how brazenly the act was committed, with citizens passing out fliers well in advance to get everyone organized. The raw obscenity of the actions perpetrated against Claude Neal and the acceptance of a town comfortable with this level of inhumanity is jaw-dropping.
Similar lines are drawn to the lynching of four men at Moore’s Ford Bridge in Georgia. Olive’s film juxtaposes the black and white imagery of the event with a modern-day re-enactment. It showcases brutality and the need to keep educating people about moments in history that most would rather forget.
“The Home Team” takes us from the rural landscapes of violent racism to the urban oppression of corporate gentrification. Atlanta, like most major American cities, is in the middle of city-wide improvements with the goal of “cleaning up” and helping bring back businesses to impacted areas. When the Atlanta Falcons were looking for a new stadium, the city spent billions of dollars to create something that would supposedly help bring jobs and money into Vine City and English Avenue; two historically black neighborhoods. The painfully, ironically named Mercedes-Benz stadium ended up being anything but a touchdown for residents hoping to turn around their impoverished area. All promises made to them ended up being as empty as the crack dens and abandoned homes in the area.
Real-estate developers began buying up property and developing it into housing residents could no longer afford. It’s an all-too familiar story that has helped create an affordable housing crisis in America. While politicians and companies prosper with huge tax breaks, constituents end up getting the shaft. It’s just another example of a system that feels way too comfortable choosing profit over people.
Filmmaker Camille Pendley does a great job capturing the sense of hopelessness that exists with citizens of these once flourishing areas. What was supposed to be a new start with the stadium ultimately appears to be the final nail in the community’s coffin. The injustices showcased aren’t violent acts of rage perpetrated in “Always in Season,” but both present shades of frustration and anger with a system that seems depressingly comfortable marginalizing certain segments of our society.
There are movies folks want to see and movies they need to see. “Always in Season” manages to engage with its subject while forcing an emotional response to some grave injustices right in our own backyard. “The Home Team” manages to provide a portrait of a neighborhood the city of Atlanta has turned its back on. Both are powerful must-see documentaries.