As you drive down one of Alabama’s major highways, it’s not hard to see gaudy Confederate flags fluttering on a hill, memorial, tombs, or basically anywhere else. Growing up in the south leads to a gradual understanding of how deep Dixie’s penetration is into culture – “The dukes of danger“ proudly wore the flag on the hood of the General Lee car, a symbol of southern pride in the 1970s. It never really went away; On the threshold of lost cause thinking, it was an attempt to repackage the old south with “Blown by the wind“Antebellum charm, a vision of a civilized, polite utopia that has never been as bad as the“ Democrats ”would have you believe. It defined slavery as tame and voluntary; it has repainted the slave masters as friendly and supportive. It’s obviously a bunch of racist, easy-to-debunk shit, but it sure sounds good to those who’d rather ignore the terrible, inhuman sins of their ancestors. The American South contains a multitude and can be a wonderful, beautiful, diverse place to live, but the spots of yesterday are still there.
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The lost cause still creeps into every facet of southern and therefore American society – it formed the history books our parents and grandparents read in school, influenced the laws that govern us, flowed into the arts, who defined the beginning of the film, and yes, erected a plethora of reactionary Civil War statues that enforced white supremacy and aimed to make black Americans feel uncomfortable and certainly not at home in a post-civil war / civil rights America. What does “The neutral ground“, The documentary debut of”The daily show“Field producer and comedian” CJ Hunt, such a bulldozing experience is just as rigorous but calm, it peeled back generations of crazy, perverted myths and set the record right. It’s a quiet, piercing arrow through what really drives the defense of Confederate monuments and what holds white supremacy in different corners of American society: a malicious, misplaced sense of history.
Hunt makes a living staging political observations and interviews in satire; This is what made The Daily Show such an important cornerstone of political comedy. Hunt, a retired New Orleans resident, spends much of the documentary in the city after removing four Confederate monuments. The city council voted to remove the statues from the city streets in 2015, but a legal battle and battle over the right equipment over worried contractors is pushing that process into 2017 when they eventually fall. Hunt examines slow progress by exploring why the monuments are so devastating and why they are rooted in a false sense of the past that many have romantically bought into and cannot otherwise be convinced of. Hunt takes the Daily Show approach first, offering some inspired comedy bits to analyze how screwed up some people’s thinking is on the subject. He shows empathy by trying to understand opposing perspectives, but never without a very exasperated look of disbelief.
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However, it is the dilemma of finding satire in such a terrifyingly depressing mindset that permeates the documentary and gives it its urgency. Sometimes this shit just isn’t funny, as we’ve learned over and over again during the Trump presidency. There were many questions about how to make fun of what was going on when the real answer all along was that you just don’t. It’s funny to see grown men in Civil War clothing walking around the LARP during a reenactment; It’s not funny to hear the same men pour out their misguided thoughts about slavery on you and make fun of hearing the real truth about what slaves went through in a pre-emancipated America. By the end of the documentary, Hunt knows deep down that he is dealing with topics beyond satire and grappling with his own identity as a black American who reveals things about the past that he himself did not know. The cruel irony of American discovery for black Americans is that the more you find out, the more you realize how much of your story has been taken from you.
“The Neutral Ground” is a spectacular documentary; concise, moving, angry, edifying and powerful. Hunt’s own journey into his experiences as a Black American grappling with the making of the documentary is about as impressive as the effective breakdown of the issues at hand. He is a gifted documentary filmmaker and a wise steward of these problems.
The documentary moves towards Charlottesville, one of the darkest days in recent American history, nearing its end. Hunt joins a photographer friend to see what will happen. You’ll be seen filming and witnessing the University of Virginia Tiki Torchlight March that is burned into so many of our memories. The courage to document what happened on site is praiseworthy in itself, but it underlines why this film is so valuable. It makes a compelling case for how the lost cause affects and will continue to affect our way of life and our shared view of the past today. The sight of Confederate monuments being demolished may be hell, but it’s not just taking the statues down that makes the difference. A fairer future depends on a careful, methodical dismantling of false history and the restoration of unqualified truth. “The Neutral Ground” captures the meaning of this fight as well as everything that has come out of it lately. Hunt is a filmmaker to watch. [A]
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