Friday, December 28, 2018

Movie with Abe: Charm City

Charm City
Directed by Marilyn Ness
Released April 22, 2018

The city of Baltimore, Maryland is very often in the news, and not usually for good reason. This film’s title references attempts to rehabilitate the image of a city ruled by crime and violence, repositioned by advertisers as a potential source of sunny tourism. The death of Freddie Gray in the back of a police van following his arrest in 2015 was an especially dark moment for Baltimore, and became the face of a movement to ensure that black lives do in fact matter. This documentary takes a look at the complicated nature of the community and what lies ahead for its future.

This film examines a few different facets of Baltimore’s neighborhoods. Police officers, some who are black and some who are not, struggle to stay on top of areas that they know are hotspots for drug dealers while being held back both by mistrust of the police from citizens and bureaucratic obstacles related to what they are legally able to do. Those who run community members and serve in local government are desperate to change the culture in a way that’s lasting and not simply based on each individual death, fully aware that what is happening in their city would easily be deemed a national emergency were it anywhere else or if the color of its population’s skin were different.

There are no easy answers to be found here, and the people interviewed know that. Hearing from black police officers who are regularly stopped and searched by unknowing colleagues is always disturbing, and enforcing the law becomes increasingly difficult with established discriminatory practices fueling anger and mistrust. One elected official stops along his drive to call in to a radio broadcast to acknowledge that one of his priorities – to increase penalties for illegal gun possession – is never going to work to truly discourage guns being on the street, but that any successful strategy needs to be cohesive and in conjunction with other efforts addressing the many factors that contribute to the makeup and tendencies of the city.

This is a film that seems to understand that what it is probing is indeed complex, and that anyone who believes that one single action can fix the problems Baltimore has is sorely mistaken. Yet it isn’t all bad, and there is an emphasis on the value of people there, with all participants in this film making concrete progress in thinking differently and acting in a way that should serve as an inspiration for future generations. This approach feels genuine and hard-hitting at the same time, creating an urgent and affirming documentary that tries to get to the heart of why Baltimore is what it is and how it can become better under the right circumstances.


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