The Order of Myths

Directed by Margaret Brown

U.S. 2008, 93 min., Unrated

In “The Order of Myths,” a documentary directed by Margaret Brown, we learn that in 1981, 19-year-old Black youth Michael Donald was lynched (one of the last “traditional” Southern lynchings in the United States). Brown shows two still photos of the young man, one as he hangs from the tree, neck bent and noose deadly and murderously apparent, and the other on a slab at the morgue with the noose still on.

Two Klansmen were convicted two years after the incident. Some view the lynching as revenge for the murder of a Mobile, Ala., policeman named Henry Booth, who had made a name for himself as the most racist cop in Mobile.

This terrible crime is an aside to Ms. Brown’s story, which is of the Mardi Gras celebration in Mobile. It is the oldest celebration of this type in the nation, even older than its more famous cousin in New Orleans.

In Mobile, we learn that there are two Mardi Gras celebrations — one for the Black residents of town, and one for the whites. In 2007, for the first time in the history of the event, the king and queen of the Black celebration went to the coronation of the white king and queen, and vice versa.

The white Mardi Gras queen of 2007 is the great-great-granddaughter of the last man to bring a shipload of Africans to Mobile, 10 years after the legal end of the African slave trade (though, of course, slavery was still legal in the U.S. until 1863). This ancestor bet that he could circumvent the law given his status as a notable and prosperous plantation owner.

Upon the ship’s arrival in Mobile’s harbor, he disembarked, and told the first mate to burn the ship if he did not return within 90 minutes. He didn’t return. The Africans on the ship fled into the surrounding woods, establishing the area of Mobile now known as “Africatown.”

The Black Mardi Gras 2007 queen is an elementary school teacher and great-great-granddaughter of one of these Africans.

As we celebrate the inauguration of the first Black president, “The Order of Myths” reminds us of the simmering earthquake of America’s race and class divide — both of how far we have come and how far we need to go. Despite the true look back at our past, the movie inspires us to take the necessary steps forward.

Based on the economy, things will probably get worse before they improve. Viewing the film you realize, if there is no reconciliation of class and race, we’ll never have a chance to soak ourselves in the warmth of the sun in this, the dawning of a new day.