The First Step Image

The First Step

By Alan Ng | June 22, 2021

AFI DOCS 2021 REVIEW! Watching a political documentary can always feel like one is viewing propaganda films from the GOP or DNC. I’m full of dread starting any film with a political bent, just knowing I’m going to feel manipulated by the end. Brandon Kramer’s documentary, The First Step, bucks this trend. His subject is CNN Analyst Van Jones and documents his lifelong passion for enacting meaningful prison and sentencing reform. The film also reveals precisely how political sausage is made. It’s not pretty.

In 1994, President Clinton and Congress passed The Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act. The law increased funding for law enforcement and prisons and established minimum sentence guidelines for drug crimes (Is it worth mentioning that Joe Biden wrote the Senate draft of the bill? No?). Since the bill was passed, a disproportionate number of Black citizens were incarcerated for drug crimes. Just read the news every day on the long-lasting effects it’s had on the African-American communities.

“…to reduce the prison population and enact sentencing reform, Jones finds an unlikely Trump White House ally…”

Jump to 2016 and the election of President Trump. Van Jones famously called Trump’s election a political “whitelash” just moments after he won. Not only was Jones an analyst on CNN, but he worked tirelessly for 25 years to bring prison and sentencing reform to fruition. Now focused on his #cut50 initiative to reduce the prison population and enact sentencing reform, Jones finds an unlikely Trump White House ally in Jared Kushner.

Seeing a tiny sliver of hope, The First Step takes us along Jones’ harrowing journey to the ultimate bi-partisan passage of The First Step Act. The film starts with Jones attempting to build a bridge between black and white communities, now that the opioid crisis is killing white folk like cocaine and meth was decimating black citizens.

The First Step (2021)

Directed and Written: Brandon Kramer

Starring: Van Jones, etc.

Movie score: 8.5/10

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"…Is 'compromise' now a forbidden word in politics?"

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