Quiet heroine outsmarts legal gang

Movie Review
American Violet
Directed by Tim Disney
2008, PG-13, 103 min.

A young waitress devotes herself to raising her four daughters and has hopes, some day, of being able to enroll in junior college. But she lives in a small Texas town that is ruled by its powerful white legal establishment. Raids against African American people are common, and nearly all of the accused take plea-bargained guilty verdicts because the cards are stacked against them.

The waitress doesn’t. In some places and in some times, the story might not be so noteworthy, but this is Texas and the waitress is African American. In the background of almost every scene, there are reminders of racist domination and injustice. On every television, a smirking George W Bush is taking over for his first term as President of the United States, after being elected twice as Governor of Texas. Confederate flags hang on restaurant walls, and big white, heavily armed policemen are always about.

The movie takes care to point out legal nuances that add up to inhumanity of the system that incarcerates so many African American people with so little actual evidence. Ninety percent of them, the movie said, were plea-bargained into jail. Many of them were arrested on the say-so of a single informant.

Our heroine may be innocent of the charges, but she’s no girl scout, either. She’s a tough young woman that has seen a lot of life. She endures the pressure from the white world with characteristic stoicism. But once she’s decided to buck the system, she catches it from her neighbors and family as well.

The movie tells a true story that took place in Hearne, Texas. According to the 2000 census, 4,690 people live there, with 44.4 percent African American. The white district attorney, exposed as a cruel racist dictator in the film, was re-elected and remains in office now. Hearne’s nearest big city is College Station, home of rabid rightwing ex-Senator Phil Gramm.

It’s a shocking movie, because its truth stands out in every frame. Please go to see it.
Some Texans may be embarrassed by the institutionalized racism in “American Violet,” just as they are embarrassed by their current governor, who exposes his ignorance as well as his demagoguery in public day after day. But the ACLU lawyers who handled the American Violet case, and the heroine, are Texans, too.

The movie carries both the IATSE union bug and the Teamster imprimatur.