|Author Colson Whitehead|
|Director Barry Jenkins|
|Barry Jenkins with actress Thuso Mbedu|
|Actress Thuso Mbedu off the set|
THE UNDERGROUND RAILWAY – made for TV A USA (585 mi, 10 episodes from 20 to 77 mi) 2021 d: Barry Jenkins
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. —Declaration of Independence, July 4, 1776, Declaration of Independence: A Transcription | National ...
The savagery that Man is capable of, when he believes his cause to be just. —Martin, Station Agent (Damon Herriman), Episode 3
With positive appraisals of each of his earlier films, Medicine for Melancholy (2008), 2016 Top Ten List #1 Moonlight, and If Beale Street Could Talk (2018), Barry Jenkins has made the case that he is among the best working directors in America today, black or white, where his skillset is sumptuous cinematography balanced with poetic realism, where Wong Kar-wai may be his strongest influence. His latest venture, an adaptation of the Pulitzer Prize winning novel by Colson Whitehead that also won the Arthur C. Clarke Award for science fiction, is a ten-part made-for-television mini-series on slavery and the road to freedom, where the historical sweep revisits the astonishing success of ROOTS (1976). As a scholar interested in how modern representations of slavery shape our understanding of the past, believing the subject has never adequately been taught in school, as Toni Morrison’s Pulitzer Prize-winning 1987 novel Beloved, arguably her most impactful novel, is banned by many schools in the United States for its graphically realistic depictions of slavery’s horrors, never turning away from the implicit racism and sexual violence. Jenkins seeks to change our relationship with black American history, taking the lead from scholars and activists who, for decades, have attempted to revitalize the American understanding of slavery, provoking controversy with The 1619 Project - The New York Times, a collection of essays that re-evaluates American history by suggesting slavery (preferring the term enslavement) is the most significant factor in shaping our American identity, with Jenkins writing one of the essays for that massive project. This film reimagines slaves not as objects of servitude, but as individuals who maintain their complex psychological identities, despite their status as human property. Many of these historical events referred to are not well known to the viewing public, and for that reason the overall consensus about this film is likely to change in the upcoming years, achieving greater significance as the public grows more aware of just how epic the scope of the film is. Despite the success of his earlier films, one even winning an Academy Award, Jenkins will forever be linked with this mammoth project, much like Fassbinder is associated with BERLIN ALEXANDERPLATZ (1980), an even longer made-for-television film examining the roots of the Nazi identity, helping ordinary German viewers re-examine their nations’ role in history. Judging by the opening one-hour segment on a cotton plantation in Georgia, easily the most savagely brutalizing images ever seen by this director, it mirrors the wretched hard corps sadism of Steve McQueen’s 12 Years a Slave (2013), where inflicting graphic pain is the first order of business, establishing such barbaric and mind-bogglingly cruel conditions in a dehumanized life of bondage that one would willingly risk their lives to escape. The use of the word “nigger” is freely thrown around, and is never used accurately in movies, as it’s a term of derision and contempt, used angrily to project hatred, yet in the movies it’s spoken so matter of factly, like any other word in the English language. The movies have really normalized the use of that word and removed all the hatred and hostility associated with its meaning. Yet as the film progresses, it’s clear the emphasis is not just on the cruelty and suffering, which is a primary, root understanding of enslavement, yet part of the allure is a changing evolution of black identity that transcends that pain, providing a delicate balance between horror and beauty, elevating their lives with an appreciation for love and the vibrantly changing world around them offering unique possibilities, reaching a near utopian communal harmony, with Jenkins providing a rapturous artistic aesthetic that liberates his characters from the strangleholds in which they find themselves, using landscapes to achieve an unparalleled eloquence, where telling their stories becomes synonymous with great literature and art. In the film, plantation owner Terrance Randall (Benjamin Walker), utterly indifferent to the suffering of others, makes it clear that blacks aren’t even human, without the capacity to reason, analyze, or love, viewed as farm animals, and are to be treated accordingly, including supervised breeding sessions where the white masters just love to sit around with their southern cocktails and watch, forcing blacks to do whatever they want for their own amusement, enduring the worst inflicted punishments, where we witness a festive party atmosphere among the owner’s friends and family, having a feast while witnessing the most barbaric form of punishment, as an escaped slave is whipped until his mutilated torso is raw and bloody before being burned alive, while all the other slaves are rounded together to witness this communal atrocity. Jenkins liberally borrows from Elem Klimov’s Come and See (Idi i smotri) (1985) where Nazi’s rounded up all the people in the Belarusian countryside, herded them into a church, and locked them inside before burning them alive while they feast and get drunk, playing music for the festive occasion, where this kind of sadistic pleasure is hard to fathom, yet it lets them off too easily to simply call it psychopathically sick and deranged, as it’s far worse, part of a deeply disturbing socially-conditioned learned hatred. Yet it took this kind of openly horrific brutality on display to convince Cora (Thuso Mbedu), a slave born on the plantation, whose mother Mabel (Sheila Atim) escaped years ago, apparently the only one to successfully do so, leaving her child behind, feeling she’s not only been abandoned but cursed, to finally decide to run away, joining Caesar (Aaron Pierre), a free and educated black man who was captured and sold into slavery, knowing all along that he needed to escape, but he wanted to bring her with him. Another friend of Cora’s, Lovey (Zsane Jhe), got wind of their escape and joined them, but was recaptured and likely killed in a surprise attack by slave catchers, while Cora was forced to kill a young white boy with her bare hands while fending him off to make their escape.
This begins a long and harrowing journey, recreating a mythical black Odyssey where the novel departs from history and seeks to convey “the truth of things, not the facts,” according to the author, Colson Whitehead, who is less concerned with chronology than conveying a sense of what blacks have actually experienced, as slavery could only function through a deliberate, ongoing dehumanization of an entire race of people that lasted hundreds of years, the effects of which we have still not recovered from, interestingly mixing various literary influences into his own work, like the autobiographical memoirs of Frederick Douglass who escaped slavery by hopping a train north to freedom, or Harriet Jacobs who spent seven years hidden in an attic escaping slavery, while integrating Gulliver’s Travels and The Odyssey and even The Diary of Anne Frank into the story. Cora’s journey to freedom is laden with implicit references to touchstones in post-emancipation history, actually discovering a fictionalized secret train, accessible only by trap doors and deep ladders into a pitch black subterranean darkness, like something out of Harry Potter, where the entitled railway is not a historical network of black and white abolitionists and safe houses secretly sheltering slaves north to freedom, but a literal network of trains run by ordinary black porters and conductors on a metaphorically surreal underground railway. Other Underground Railroad portrayals have over-emphasized the role of those who helped slaves to freedom by heaping praise on white saviors who took risks, though it was an integrated movement that ultimately helped change the direction of the country, yet this film instead takes a special interest in the point of departure where the risk was greatest, finding the inner resolve to leave a horrific life of bondage where brutally beaten slaves are viewed as human chattel, as the sadistic level of violence and oppression of slavery is still not fully understood, including those charged with returning slaves seeking freedom back to the plantations, which has origins with today’s trigger-happy police, as police departments emerged out of 18th century southern slave patrols (The racist roots of American policing: From slave patrols to ...). Immaculately photographed by James Laxton, who has shot every one of Jenkins’ films, much of this film is shot in extreme darkness, while after a few episodes the original music by Nicholas Britell becomes pronounced, a quiet yet extremely effective counterbalance to the intense onscreen imagery, a poetic interior reflection of the subject matter, given even more prominence as the episodes progress. Rather than shoot straight north, the most direct route on foot, this train zig zags through the South on a protracted journey from Georgia to the Carolinas, Tennessee, and Indiana, merging the past and even the future into the present, blending together significant aspects of black history, where each stop is an insidious manifestation of racism, stopping first in Griffin, South Carolina, where blacks are treated entirely differently, shown kindness and respect by a white society with official plans to uplift the Negro race. A surreal and even fantastical follow-up from the raw brutality of the first episode, here blacks are dressed in elegantly fine clothes, resembling portrait paintings, where a photographer even takes their picture, preserved for history and posterity. Blacks are offered jobs, and even lessons in etiquette, reading, and physical fitness, treated like actual human beings, where Caesar lands a job as a white scholar’s assistant, the first time in his life where he can actually use his mind for work, while Cora strangely works at a natural history museum reenacting slave plantation rituals behind a glass enclosure, from picking cotton to brutal whippings, recalling Henry (Box) Brown’s infamous traveling show, a moving panorama entitled “Mirror of Slavery,” a live human display teaching the white population about African savagery, reinforcing negative stereotypes about black inferiority, eerily becoming part of a living history lesson that blacks associate with trauma, feeling fortunate to wind up here in what appears to be a progressive safe haven. But it’s all a façade, as the friendly demeanor hides their real intentions, proponents of racialized eugenics and scientific racism, advocates of white superiority, where Negroes are being used as lab rats in nefarious medical experiments, mirroring the unethical Tuskegee Syphilis Study conducted between 1932 and 1972, controlling black behavior through forced drug use and coerced sterilization, routinely stealing black babies, claiming the women have blood disorders and that it’s all for their benefit. By the time they figure it out, Caesar has been cornered by Randall’s slave-hunter Ridgeway (Joel Edgerton) while Cora escapes the grasp of his diminutive black sidekick Homer (Chase W. Dillon), who moves behind the museum glass to grab her, viewed as glorified entertainment by the white audience, applauding her as she flees out the door in a panic, finding her way back to the railroad on her own.
The emotional toll doesn’t get any easier, as each chapter reveals more human atrocities, a ghostly world of an alternate universe that broadens the sweep of not just black history, but hundreds of years of continuously inflicted human trauma condensed into ten episodes, challenging the viewer’s ability to withstand the unending emotional devastation. There was a therapist on the set throughout the shoot and Jenkins apparently took full advantage of the availability, walking off the set during particularly intense scenes. For mental health reasons, viewers may need a reprieve between episodes instead of binge-watching it all at once. Nothing reaching the epic scope of this work has been seen before, emulating the historical sweep of Claude Lanzmann’s 10-hour SHOAH (1985) or the burning intensity of Paul Thomas Anderson’s There Will Be Blood (2007), as these historical examples are the origins of racial bigotry that continue to plague our nation today, yet what separates this film from other torture stories that have come before is how the epic sweep of the narrative creates an inclusive black history that can so easily be identified with, where the size of Cora’s heart is enormous, as she stands for all the outcomes that never happened and for a humanity that was never expressed in the all-white accounts of history that literally negated her existence, representing instead an untold story of a black free will of unfulfilled ambitions and unrealized dreams. Cora finds herself alone on the railway when it was not accepting passengers, but the conductor refused to simply leave her behind, so he transports her to North Carolina, which is the end of the line, discovered by the stationmaster, having no place else to go, so he agrees to hide her, covering her under a canopy on his wagon and bringing her to his home, as black people are barred from stepping into North Carolina. As if to serve notice, and a constant reminder to anyone who may have other ideas, the road into town, known as the Freedom Trail, is a tree-lined pathway with blacks lynched from nearly every tree, calling to mind Roman crucifixions, a surreal depiction of a grotesque living horror, as the trees are constantly replenished with new bodies. Those found violating the law are lynched in weekly public ceremonies to massive approval and applause. Cora is hidden in the attic of the stationmaster’s home, where, surprisingly, another younger black girl named Grace (Mychal-Bella Bowman) also resides, much to the objection of his puritanical wife, where the town is led by a zealously strict minister who condemns blacks with a fire and brimstone vengeance, viewed as heathens and savages, viciously slaughtering captured live black subjects by his own hand (to the wild applause of the community), like a Biblical sacrifice offered to God, praising the sanctity of the white race, reinforced for generations by churches and schools. This image of an all-white state that has not only banned slavery but also the presence of any black people has its origins in the state of Oregon, entering the Union in 1859, the only state with a constitution that abolished the presence of black people within its borders. By the 1920’s, one in 20 Oregonians was a card-carrying member of the Ku Klux Klan, the highest percentage of any state west of the Mississippi, and has been slow to correct its historic wrongdoings, as the state constitution wasn’t changed until 1926, while the state didn’t ratify the 14th Amendment granting citizenship to formerly enslaved blacks until 1959, nearly 100 years after it was added to the U.S. Constitution in 1868, granting equal protection under the law to blacks. By 1940, there were fewer than 2500 blacks living among Oregon’s 1.5 million residents, while today the state remains 87% white. What truly stands out is the fanaticism of white arrogance, as racial superiority is key to understanding the identity of each southern state, where freedom exists only for the white race. Newly arrived white immigrants perform the tasks previously carried out by slaves, indentured servants working off their debts, viewed by residents as the scum of the earth, as untrustworthy criminals who are blamed for anything that goes wrong, yet they are the most rabidly hateful among them, projecting a stream of heinous invectives and scorn toward blacks. However when Ridgeway shows up with his trusted black companion searching for Cora, all hell breaks loose, as vicious catcalls to string them up are heard, burning the house down, blatantly resembling the mass hysteria of the Salem Witch trials, as blacks are venomously viewed as an infestation of vermin that must be eradicated in order to save the purity of the white race.
Chapter 5, Exodus, is as mournful and downbeat as anything ever seen, harrowingly sad, yet it's transfixing, revealing Ridgeway’s transport of Cora back to the plantation while carrying another slave from Florida, Jasper (Calvin Leon Smith), who he intends to sell, both dragged in chains on a wagon across the burning lands of Tennessee, set on fire by misguided settlers who wanted to clear the land for farming, creating a surreal, almost painterly depiction of an American scorched earth that resembles Hell on earth. Yet this episode is about as anguishing a segment as has ever been shown on American television, an excruciating reminder of the effects of Manifest Destiny, as the utter emotional devastation only grows over time into one long, suffocatingly powerful death lament, following The Cherokee Trail of Tears, the full extent of which is largely untaught in school, where the human exasperation and toil has been overlooked and forgotten over time. An estimated 17,000 Cherokee Indians along with 2000 black slaves were forcibly removed from their land at gunpoint, making way for white settlers to plant cotton, marched by the U.S. military for more than 5000 miles, covering 9 states from Eastern Tennessee to what was described as Indian Territory in Western Oklahoma in a 7-month evacuation, forced to endure brutal wintry conditions of sleet and freezing temperatures, sleeping in wagons or on the ground with no fires for warmth, many bound in chains, where food and supplies were limited, while death and disease were rampant, dying of pneumonia, cold, and exposure, while whooping cough, typhus, dysentery, cholera, and starvation were epidemic along the way. According to the military there were officially 424 deaths, yet thousands more died in the camps after their arrival from disease and malnutrition. Historians claim the number of deaths was closer to 5000, while the Indian estimate is closer to 8000, with nearly half the Cherokee tribe dying on the march, calling it an act of genocide. Ironically, by the time Oklahoma became a state in 1907 the land set aside for Indian Territory not only shrank but disappeared altogether. Through Cora and Jasper, both bound in chains, as well as Homer, a free black man who continues to chain himself to the wagon at night, this film captures the internalized terror and monstrosity of that nightmarish descent into Hell, leaving viewers horrified and emotionally drained afterwards, forced to witness indescribable human atrocities, often appearing as ghosts in near total blackness, perhaps closer to death than the living. Cora tries to escape twice, while also seen attempting suicide by drowning in a river, weighed down by her chains, yet Ridgeway refuses to allow her to die, while Jasper literally starves himself to death rather than return to slavery, refusing to eat, or even speak, having nothing to live for, and is instead repeatedly heard singing sorrowful hymns of death. This episode is told in long wordless sequences, where their treatment is an utter abomination, as Ridgeway shackles her to the dead body, making a mockery of her cries of utter revulsion and abhorrence, where this is among the cruelest moments ever imagined. The corpse of Jasper is left on the ground afterwards, simply dumped along the side of the road, where his emaciated remains resemble the look of concentration camp survivors in World War II, who were forced to evacuate the camps and sent on death marches late in the war to avoid falling into Allied hands, as depicted in the wrenching autobiographical novel Night (1960) by Elie Wiesel, a devoutly orthodox Jew, recalling his Holocaust experiences in the Nazi concentration camps at Auschwitz and Buchenwald, a sparse and fragmented narrative where he writes about how the experience led to his questioning the existence of God, who was noticeably absent in the camps, revealing his own increasing disgust with humanity. Toni Morrison in her 1993 Nobel Prize speech (Toni Morrison - Nobel Lecture - NobelPrize.org) is quoted as saying, “Language can never ‘pin down’ slavery, genocide, war. Nor should it yearn for the arrogance to be able to do so. Its force, its felicity is in its reach toward the ineffable.” Jarring rap music brings most segments to a close, like The Pharcyde - Runnin' (Official Music Video) YouTube (4:25) ending Episode 2, Childish Gambino - This Is America (Official Video) YouTube (4:04) concluding Episode 9, or a stirring gospel rendition by Mahalia Jackson ending it all in Episode 10, Mahalia Jackson ~ How I got over - YouTube (6:16), where only Episode 3 closes with the soulful lament of Marvin Gaye, Marvin Gaye - Wholy Holy - YouTube (3:11), a sorrowful plea for love to be our salvation.
Showing extraordinary resilience, the character of Cora is written with The Odyssey in mind, as her journey takes circuitous routes, beginning at the Randall plantation in antebellum Georgia, discovering rape, castration, and brutal whippings were commonplace, making barbarian horror the routine, where the ordinary life of a slave is akin to living under terrorism. There is no relief anywhere to be seen. While not in the film, the book takes us back to Cora’s grandmother, Ajarry, abducted in Africa, facing torture and suicides during the middle passage to America, where the transition abruptly changes from being viewed as human to living like an animal under constant threat of violence and torture. The escape of Cora’s mother Mabel is a constant reminder, a source of irritation and guilt, like a pox placed upon the family (her mysterious fate gradually comes into focus at the end), yet as the only slave to escape from the Randall plantation, she remains a thorn in the side of Ridgeway, who seeks to amend that mistake with Cora, tracking her relentlessly with a loyal, black aide who betrays his own race in the name of survival, much like Indian scouts helped Custer and the U.S. military track down the location of escaping Indians. Pursuing her through her various escape routes along the underground railroad, which are extensive, we follow her on a prolonged and arduous journey, revisiting an American history rarely seen, taking her as far north as Indiana, finally taking refuge in an independent all-black community, the Valentine Farm, where it appears Cora is finally safe, yet she’s still a wanted fugitive from justice, with black voices from within that collective who don’t want to accept her, as she could compromise their business interests with the neighboring white community, leading to an all-important vote on whether to accept or exclude her. This forces Cora to look in the mirror and make her own assessment, still carrying an enormous weight upon her back, much of it expressed through a dreamlike montage where she explores the Railroad itself, a mammoth construction of an imaginary black enterprise where she finds herself staring into the mirror and wondering what she sees, whether she remains under the tyranny of an owner or has the right to be a free and liberated human being. One of the most extraordinary sequences involves a piece of classical music, Debussy - Clair de Lune | Piano & Orchestra Version - YouTube (4:15), revisiting the entire cast standing together in a field staring straight at the camera as it moves from left to right, becoming a living photograph, with the characters interacting with viewers, which leads to a brief romance sequence between Cora and Royal (William Jackson Harper), where the depth of what she’s experienced may not allow her to fully grasp a declaration of love, yet it is nonetheless offered to her, leading to another look from Cora staring straight at the camera, where it’s hard not to feel the depths of her uncertainty. Part of the underground railway experience is to give testimony at every station, which gives meaning and contextualizes her life, where the entirety of the 10-part film is her final testimony, part of the oral tradition that is passed on through each generation. The date of the vote produces an epic Lincoln and Douglas style debate (or Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. DuBois) between Mingo (Chukwudi Iwuji), who purchased his family’s freedom from hard work and doesn’t want that jeopardized by offering sanctuary to fugitives from justice, where he’s willing to accommodate white society, and the more merciful John Valentine (Peter de Jersey) who embraces all remnants of slavery, as few have the opportunity of freedom, arguing whether they need to cut in white folks at all, as the hard-earned success of the farm is rightfully their own, claiming the freedoms promised by the Declaration of Independence were never intended for black folks at all, that the nation was founded on a delusion. Ridgeway, however, makes an appearance along with an armed white posse organized by white business interests (threatened by too much black equality and prosperity) that burns and ravages the farm, leading to a massacre of most of the black people living there, including Royal, revisiting the Tulsa race massacre of 1921, which has been called the single worst incident of mass racial violence in American history, an attack carried out by a white mob numbering in the thousands on the ground with guns and rifles and from private aircraft shooting machine guns on black homes and businesses, destroying more than 35 square blocks, at that time the wealthiest black community in the United States, known as “Black Wall Street.” The official estimate was 36 dead, but historians place the count closer to 300, leaving more than 8000 people homeless, resulting in no convictions for any of the charges related to violence. This atrocity was suppressed from news reports and all official records, where historical research largely comes from the archives of black survivors, leading to decades of continued silence, where it wasn’t until 2009 that the incident was finally included in Oklahoma history books. As much as anything, this film documents American atrocities against its own black people, placing the subject front and center in the public consciousness, where this new generation has a chance to finally reckon with this dark stain of history. Ralph Ellison’s unnamed narrator in Invisible Man lives underground before he decides he’s done hiding and is finally ready to face a hostile world. Cora, similarly, finds herself in the same position, discovering she can’t truly escape from her no longer muted past, not really knowing what to expect as she ventures forward.
What this film does, to its credit, especially given its length, is get to the interiority of the characters, which is something all Barry Jenkins films have in common. Considering the length of time viewers stay connected to this material, and the brutal nature of the subject matter, this is the saving grace of the film, as it humanizes otherwise unreachable material that exists only in history books, contextualizing the past into the present, making this a living, breathing document. While Cora is the central protagonist who deserves special praise, completely unlike anything we’ve ever seen before, bearing witness to the unspeakable crimes against humanity, she is the historical guide through which the material is transported into the present, connecting us to the visible atrocity of watching George Floyd’s life snuffed out of him before our eyes, despite pleading for his life. Like so many others that came before, his pleas were ignored. Today’s racially skewed police practices and prison systems are rooted in the persecution of slaves, sending slave catchers after them, treating them as less than human in the name of the law. That brings us to another character of prominence, the notorious slave catcher Ridgeway, who views himself as an officer of the law, driven by the American imperative, believing it is his rightful place to simply take what belongs to him, where America is a land “to conquer and build and civilize. Lift up the lesser races. And if not lift up, subjugate; and if not subjugate, exterminate.” Perhaps unintentionally, he reveals his inner soul, claiming “The will of the spirit is nothing compared to the heart that’s overwhelmed with hate.” Through him we realize what’s been missing throughout our long and violent racial divide, a sense of empathy, identifying with others, offering a helping hand, providing that Christian spirit. The Christian morals and values that offer so much promise to some are literally abandoned when it comes to others, instead consumed by fear and hatred, where demonizing becomes a rationalizing smoke screen to hide behind, revealing an inability to see the humanity in others. Had we practiced what we preached, and followed the Biblical Golden Rule of doing unto others as you would have them do unto you, a completely different community spirit would have existed. This reflects the spirit of the Constitution, “that all men are created equal,” but this notion has continually been cast aside in an irrationality of all-consuming hatred, where instead white supremacism and racial superiority have long festered in our nation’s history, where the defining organization of the Reconstruction era was the Ku Klux Klan, whose sole purpose was to terrorize blacks, where Confederate general Nathan Bedford Forrest was the first Grand Wizard. Slavery is the original sin that this nation has still not come to terms with, as offshoots of the KKK, Night Riders, and Neo-Nazi white nationalist groups have evolved into the present, while Sundown Towns (Sundown Towns • - Blackpast), prevalent in the Midwest and West, including the infamous Route 66, made it a crime for blacks to even appear in all-white communities after dark. Even the original Founding Fathers didn’t fully embrace the meaning behind the document they’d written, as George Washington and Thomas Jefferson were slaveholders, living proof that all men were not created equal, while John and Samuel Adams were adamantly against slavery their entire lives. What this film so eloquently expresses is the meaning behind the Preamble of the U.S. Constitution which begins, “We the people,” because at the time it was written, We referred exclusively to white men, as blacks and women were excluded. But as the Bill of Rights expanded voting rights to include women, the 19th Amendment was ratified in 1920, yet most women of color were still denied the right to vote until the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and also the inclusion of blacks, the 15th Amendment was passed in 1870, but many blacks were also excluded from voting until the Voting Rights Act of 1965, so it was only recently that the meaning behind “We the people” expanded to include everyone. The problem is this new legality has still not been embraced by all, as some continue to view social progress as a threat to their own individuality, where the Trump presidency regularly aligned with white supremacist groups. American politics has historically demonized race, with the Democrats countering Lincoln’s Republican support for Reconstruction rights for former slaves, identifying themselves as the “white man’s party.” When Reconstruction was officially over, the Democratic Party controlled every Southern state, remaining a one-party region until the Civil Rights movement began in the 1960’s, when the Republican use of the Southern strategy transformed Southern politics, promoting law and order while appealing to the racial fears of white southerners, turning the historically Jim Crow-aligned Democratic South into a solid block for the Republican Party, which in their eyes is a God-given right, even resorting to scripture to support their views, reminiscent of the fanaticism of South Carolina in the film. Their real argument, however is simply: It’s always been this way. The film is uniquely profound on levels we simply haven’t seen, challenging simplistic notions while offering a more rewarding option through a renewed understanding of our own collective history, viewing trauma as our shared memory, while hoping to ignite a different outcome, bearing in mind the words of novelist and philosopher George Santayana, who was himself a racial bigot and a believer in eugenics, vehemently against mixing the races, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” This film helps us remember.