October 17, 2012

Anti-drug war documentary wins Sundance award

ACLU -In 1971, Richard Nixon declared a war, couched in terms that suggested that the onslaught of attacks would target and eliminate the presence of drugs in our country. But the so-called War on Drugs, it turned out, was given a deceiving title. Nixon had instead initiated a full-fledged war on the American people, one that has continued in full force for more than four decades, systematically targeting, punishing and marginalizing hundreds of thousands of our citizens – predominately people of color and in poverty. In recent years, critics of this misguided war have become increasingly vocal, spurring an outpouring of calls to end the government’s harmful, needless and costly battle on American citizens. Now, the tragic complexity of this failed war has been captured on film by director Eugene Jarecki in his award-winning documentary, The House I Live In. The film compellingly documents the wasteful War on Drugs from numerous critical angles by bearing witness to the stories of prison guards and prisoners, judges and police officers, and the families left behind after their loved ones were thrown in prison.

Awarded the Grand Jury Prize for Best Documentary at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival, the film reaches back beyond Nixon’s infamous declaration to trace more than a century of the American government’s insidious practice of persecuting and alienating ethnic minorities under the guise of drug law enforcement. From the opium laws of the late 1800’s, put in place to inconvenience and disenfranchise Chinese immigrants, to the surplus of laws and policies in place today that alienate poor Americans of color, Jarecki’s work shows that the drug war has actually not been about drugs at all, but about the social control of disfavored communities. In tandem with fear-mongering politicians who have willingly and successfully perpetuated Nixon’s gospel on their paths to public office, drug laws and their ruthless enforcement have operated to make the United States the leading incarcerator in the world. In examining the impact of the War on Drugs in states across the country, The House I Live In explicitly depicts a war that is not merely rural or urban, or black or brown or white, but American.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Nixon called it a war because the American people will always rally round the flag. And of course, it did amount to a war on hippies and minorities, two subsets of Americans whom Nixon and his subset of Americans despised. But what Nixon really did was restart Prohibition. Had he called it what it was, the American people would have been reminded of past experience and many would have questioned the wisdom of the policy. Smart politics unfortunately does not make for good governance. But, hey, what could you expect from a Dick like Nixon?

Anonymous said...

It is a meaningful topic and a story that needs to be told. I just wish that the film maker were up to it.

The film was paternalistic and filled with every racist trope in the book. I watched it in a theater in Chicago with four friends - all black guys from the South Side. The theater was full of white liberals. I felt myself and my friends squirm as the narrator told his version of life in inner city America - through the lens of his family's maid. The theater full of white liberals applauded wildly at the end.

It was meandering and painful.