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American Violet

American Violet

On DVD: 
Tuesday, October 13, 2009

American Violet walks resolutely in the tradition of “strong lead female fighting the power” films like Erin Brockovich and North Country. Whereas those two movies tackled evil empowered in the forms of big business and sexual harassment, American Violet addresses the pervasive issue of institutionalized racism. In this case, it’s the legal/police system of small Texas town where blacks are routinely targeted for crimes they didn’t commit.

The central character here is young mother of four named Dee Roberts. She and her children (and her mother) live in project housing, a location that the cops know well, thanks to the aggressive tactics of their district attorney. Before long, their community is subject to a SWAT raid, with a majority of the inhabitants being rounded up and accused of crimes based on specious accusations and hearsay. Roberts is actually at work at the time and is unceremoniously arrested and removed right in front of the patrons at a café.

From their she learns her fate: she’s supposedly been dealing drugs at a local school and can either plea out for a quick release (and the branding of a felon for life) or possibly fight the system and risk getting the book thrown at her (25 years in prison). Naturally, she decides to take on “the man,” aided by a team of two lawyers from the ACLU and one local attorney who used to be part of the very narcotics task force who’s prosecuting Roberts.

Like most films that are “inspired by” or “based on” a true story, I’m not quite sure which elements of this are completely factual and which have been dramatized for the screen. It might not be a huge issue for the sake of the movie…but racism remains a true fight throughout the country and it would be nice to know if the ACLU guys were truly such upstanding gents or if the Texas law enforcement system was/is actually so blatantly racist. I’m not doubting the presentation here per se. I grew up in the south, so I’ve seen my fair share of ugly race-based hate. But some of the characterizations here feel just a tad over-simplified, a little too cut and dry.

All that said, this is a pretty solid little movie. I don’t know when this actually came out in theaters, but if you didn’t catch it then, it’s worth seeing. A great cast, a moving story and really good character work from the actors. Nicely done.

Jeremy Hunt
Review by Jeremy Hunt
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