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Movies/TV Last Updated: Apr 14th, 2013 - 20:31:30

U.S. Mass Incarceration
By Esther Editor and Film Critic
Oct 12, 2012, 16:14

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Two new films offer penetrating insight into the impact of mass incarceration in the United States.

“The House I Live In”
“40 Years, $1 Trillion Dollars, 45 Million Arrests” is the promotional slogan for “The House I Live In,” a powerful new documentary about “The War on Drugs” that traces four decades of this so-called war and counts the cost in lives lost—not to addiction but to the judicial system and mass incarceration.

Director Eugene Jarecki explores how this war, begun under President Richard M. Nixon and greatly expanded under President Reagan, has morphed from a program that once attempted to treat addiction, into a political and social weapon convenient for elected officials to illustrate that they are “tough on crime.” As author Michelle Alexander (who is interviewed in “The House I Live In,”) states in her influential book,The New Jim Crow, the targets of this weapon are Black and Brown men.

Entire economies have sprang up to service this new industry of policing, prosecuting and imprisoning this country’s burgeoning populations in prisons, filled with those convicted for non-violent drug offenses.

“The House I Live In,” which won a special grand jury prize at the Sundance Film Festival, proposes what most pundits will not: that the war on drugs is systematically destroying individuals, families and neighborhoods. David Simon, creator of “The Wire” TV series, calls the war on drugs “a holocaust in slow motion,’ that it is systematically killing those no longer needed in a post-Industrial United States.

“Middle of Nowhere”
Also opening around the country is “Middle of Nowhere,” the second independent feature film from Ava Duvernay, who picked up the Best Director prize at Sundance for this effort. Rather than focus on the predicament of the imprisoned, “Middle of Nowhere” turns its attention to those left on the “outside.” It follows Ruby, who was once an aspiring medical student and now works as a registered nurse, as she copes with the imprisonment of her boyfriend Darryl.

Quiet and meditative, “Middle of Nowhere” is best at giving a finely drawn real-life face to the faceless families, friends and loved ones connected to the imprisoned. It is less successful at delivering a compelling narrative. Actress Emayatzy Corinealdi is a refreshing and convincing in the role of woman moving through a world that has been turned upside down. David Oyelowo (“Red Tails”) continues to make his complex performances look effortless.

To help spread word about the film, Duvernay, a promotion-savvy former publicist, has partnered with several organizations that advocate for the rights of incarcerated and their families. The film also has its own social media campaign to end the predatory phone rates charged to those trying stay connected to the imprisoned.

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