Kevin J. Williams’ documentary feature film, Fear of a Black Republican, tackles some simple questions: Why are there not more African Americans in, or voting for, the Republican party and does the Republican party even want that to change? The answers the film uncovers may (or may not) surprise you, but I’ll admit that I, for one, was unaware of many of historical background that resulted with Republicans garnering only 10% of the African American vote.
For one, the film points out another simple idea, that the Democratic party takes African American votes for granted, while the Republicans have decided to ignore the vote altogether (or, in the case of the forthcoming 2012 elections, attempt to undermine and suppress voting in areas deemed less Republican-friendly, which is most often urban environments). The result, for the African American community is not a positive one either way, as it’s a case of being ignored outright and being forced into a one-party scenario; if Republicans don’t seem to care, why not stick with the Democrats? Since the Democrats feel they don’t need to do anything to keep the vote, they do very little. Since the Republicans think they can’t get the vote, they don’t try either.
Historically, as the film shows, it was the taking for granted of the African American vote by the Republican party that initially lost them that community’s majority in the first place. So are we at a pivot point in history, if it should repeat itself? If you’re a Democrat, taking for granted that community’s support, you should hope not but, if you’re a Republican, you may not be trying hard enough. Or, as the film shows, maybe you are trying hard enough, but you’re getting no support from the higher-ups in the party, dictating campaign policy.
But enough on the messages contained in the film, and I’ve not touched on much, because I’m here to review the film, not the politics at play. And as a documentary, the film is an intriguing one, a bit rough around the edges, that loses its steam about midway through and never regains the momentum before ending abruptly. Case in point, the film is split into three acts, and Act One is where all the best sound bytes are found, and the stage is set.
Unfortunately Act Two focuses on African American Republican Catherine Davis’ run for Congress, and the challenges she faced trying to win a Democrat-friendly district. It’s a great example of all the things that the film points out are wrong about the Republican view regarding the African American voter, as Davis tries her best to succeed on a grassroots level but is undermined at almost every turn by her own party’s lack of support for her and her campaign. The problem is, it feels like a different film added-on to the talking heads-style one we were watching.
By the time Act Three tries to start back in the style of the first act, the rhythm and tone of the documentary are lost. And then the film just ends with no real summation or repetition of the argument at its center, let alone any calls for actions or solutions offered. The problems are clear, but what does anyone really do about it? It’s abrupt and disappointing in its wrap-up.
Fear of a Black Republican would’ve perhaps been better served by making Catherine Davis’ campaign the framework that it fleshed out with the sound bytes. As someone makes a point, perhaps you show how her campaign troubles exemplified that point. The result would be a more cohesive, connected narrative that wouldn’t need to be explicitly split into three acts, just a narrative that itself has three acts. This would allow for the best sound bytes and the strongest aspects of the arguments to be made front-and-center and, with a tighter edit, it could accomplish it all in a shorter running time, keeping the overall momentum. Plus, if it wraps up simultaneously with Davis’ campaign, you have an obvious ending.
Overall, Fear of a Black Republican starts a conversation that needs to be had, as the African American community shouldn’t feel like it’s Democrat or nothing. At the same time, though, the film also points out how fundamental the changes need to be in the Republican party for that to happen, and it’s not a pretty or probable picture. When Ann Coulter’s exasperated response about how she can’t understand why the Republican party is so unpopular with African American voters amounts to something like “our blacks are so much more impressive than their blacks…”, you know someone is missing the point on the most basic of levels. And lest you think I’m bagging only on one side here, my opinion of both parties is not the most complimentary by the end of this film.
This film was submitted for review through our Submission for Review system. If you have a film you’d like us to see, and we aren’t already looking into it on our own, you too can utilize this service.