It seems like such a no-brainer on the surface: Take a run-down inner city neighborhood, bring in some upscale young professionals to buy and renovate the beautiful old homes in that neighborhood, and everyone should be happy, right? Well, not exactly.
You see, most of the original inhabitants of Columbus, Ohio’s Olde Town East neighborhood are elderly, low-income African-Americans, while most of the well-meaning invaders are upscale white homosexuals. This is the type of volatile, socially and racially charged scenario the creators of “Sim City” couldn’t have and WOULDN’T have dreamed up in a million years.
“Flag Wars” strikes a decent, relatively non-judgemental balance between these two competing factions, following the conflict as it evolves over the course of some four years. Yet, while directors Linda Goode Bryant and Laura Poitras’ documentary centers on this gay gentrification vs. the displacement of elderly blacks issue, the film features other intriguing subplots as well. Most notably amongst these are the Ku Klux Klan march through the neighborhood, the trial of a hate-filled homophobic “Christian” minister for tearing down “the queers'” Rainbow flag from the statehouse grounds, and the ongoing tragi-comic saga of one woman’s struggle to keep her house up to code. All of these play as side dishes to the film’s main course.
With two such traditionally liberal voting allies as gays and African-Americans at odds — one longtime resident even goes so far as to use the loaded “ethnic cleansing” phrase — “Flag Wars” has got to be a social conservative’s dream come true. Yet, for all the potential for fireworks, the film actually plays more like an unresolved coffeehouse rumination on the complex situation that it is, rather than a fire and brimstone shouting match.
And while the latter might have made for a more riveting film, it wouldn’t have necessarily made for a better or fairer one. That’s because the slightly sluggish and scattered “Flag Wars” depicts the outcome of this ongoing cultural battle the only way that it can: with winners and losers on both sides.