AFI DOCS 2021 REVIEW! This documentary could not have come at a better time. With the historic signing of making Juneteenth an official national holiday by President Joe Biden and the House and Senate, the thoughts and teachings of Black history are on the minds of the American psyche.
By director C.J. Hunt, the Neutral Ground takes aim at the fight in New Orleans to remove its statues of racist historical figures from the Civil War and up. This fight was born out of the recent uprisings that resulted from years of police brutality and murders against the Black community.
C.J. Hunt, while on a self-journey of exploring what it means to be a Black man in America, finds himself caught up in the city’s war for the soul of New Orleans. The fight to have these statues removed started as a small protest that built up so much steam that it became a nationwide debate and a rip down party lines, social lines, and obviously racial lines.
But this wasn’t just a New Orleans problem. The whole south was on trial here. With both sides: Those who want to protect the statues and those who want them gone, digging their heels in, planting their flags, and in some cases arming themselves for confrontation, C.J. does a decently good job of getting different points of views from every circle.
“…takes aim at the fight in New Orleans to remove its statues of racist historical figures…”
Those in favor of these statues, though mostly outwardly racist, believe that they are preserving their history and heritage. Most of them with insane theories on how “well” Black slaves were treated by their masters and how only a small number of White folks actually owned slaves. We discover how at one point in the south, it was commonplace to use the teachings of the Ku Klux Klan in school books and church pamphlets. Not saying all the White supporters of these statues (because they are all pretty much White from what I can tell) were this ignorant of history. Still, it’s easy to see that they are indoctrinated by Conservative media’s talking points.
Meanwhile, Black leaders, protestors, and revolutionaries are putting pressure on their city council members to act and remove statues. Their argument (justifiably) is that it is basically an insult to the majority of Black people living in the cities where these statues are placed. Literally reminding them every day of the worst and most painful time in our history. In fact, most of the statues are in predominantly Black neighborhoods, which exposes an even deeper problem altogether.
As the doc progresses, we see CJ go further and further into the deep end of this toxic water. What should have technically been a battle in the courts was spilling out all over streets in protests. Tensions were high, and the potential for these gatherings to get violent was almost a given; and eventually, it does.
Again these documented events are pretty well-known by now through constant coverage in the mainstream media. But what is different are the honest conversations between ordinary folks on both sides of this racial divide.
Would I recommend this movie?
The Neutral Ground is a solid enough documentary. It is informative on the topic of race relations in America, while also is an entertaining look at a Black man, who up until recently, really started to question his own identity with regards to his own “Blackness.” Also, with Juneteenth nearby, it is just a good conversation to be had right now. Even though it was well put together, I wouldn’t say this was the best documentary I’ve watched in recent times. The subject matter is a little tiresome at this point, and to be honest, these “social commentaries” are getting harder and harder to separate from each other. But with a runtime of only 80 minutes, it might be worth a watch if you are feeling that social justice itch that you need scratched.
The Neutral Ground screened at the 2021 Tribeca Film Festival and 2021 AFI DOCS.
"…As Juneteenth approaches, America continues to fight over confederate statues."