I didn’t like this.
I expected I would. It’s a documentary about Fox Rich, a prison abolitionist and activist, mother of 6, who raised her kids on her own while her husband served a 20 year jail sentence. I expected it to be a take down of the racism and injustice of the prison system, and a portrait of how a family serves a sentence alongside the convicted, how the harm ripples out.
But it wasn’t. Maybe I was expecting the wrong thing or maybe the filmmaker didn’t achieve their goals, who knows. But it just rubbed me entirely the wrong way.
Firstly there’s the way the filmmaker chose to portray Fox. A lot of the footage is of her at speaking engagements, which makes her seem like you’re watching staged performances, not really getting to know a person intimately. Fox is shown practicing her spiel for selling used cars, and talking shit about people she’s on the phone to, making her seem two-faced. And because the way Fox speaks is very reminiscent of the emotive religious preaching that is part of her background, it just put me on the back foot and instantly sceptical, because you feel like you are be proselytised to, and manipulated, and talked at, not to. And maybe that impression could have been countered and balanced if the film had been cut together differently, but it actually lost me sympathy for the film’s subject, rather than gaining it.
Then there is the absolute lack of surrounding context. There’s a lot of context that could have been put into a story like this. You could talk about the disproportionately high rate of incarceration among African-Americans compared to white Americans convicted of similar crimes, of the disproportionately longer sentences, and less likelihood for parole. I’m not really sure why the filmmaker decided to leave that out, whether because they assumed you already knew that, or that it doesn’t matter, or that providing such information catered to an outside perspective looking in on Fox and her family, rather than portraying Fox’s truth without feeling the need to validate it with statistics.
But there’s even a lack of context in Fox’s specific situation. It’s quite aways into the film before you even find out why her husband is in jail, and that she was part of that crime. And then you find out she was sent to jail at the same time, but got out earlier, how long you’re not sure, someone mentions that the sentence was for 12 years, but she’s been around for almost all of her kids’ lives so that can’t be right. You are just left constantly wondering. And that’s not a good thing, because it causes the viewer to speculate, and wonder if you’re not being told something for a reason. The truth is her husband tried to rob a bank, no one was injured, and the police arrived almost immediately. But the fact that it feels hidden, makes you wonder, “Was someone hurt? Did they harm somebody?” Which again, damages the sympathy you would get from the audience if you’d just been up-front.
Not a great movie.