Film-Forward Review: [AMERICAN BLACKOUT]

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Directed by: Ian Inaba.
Produced by: Anastasia King.
Edited by: Liz Canning, Inaba & Jean-Philippe Boucicaut.
Music by: Mark Batson & Michael Bearden.
Released by: The Disinformation Company.
Country of Origin: USA. 86 min. Not Rated.
DVD Features: “True Lies” animated short featuring Taalam Acey. Deleted scenes. “The Last Plantation”: Capitol Hill Police speak out on the McKinney incident. “On the Road: Q&A Audience Response.” Nineteen-minute activist’s tool: “American Blackout: Ohio 2004” segment. Trailer.

Recited while animated white-colored line images appear against a black background illustrating his points, Taalam Acey’s poem, while eloquently indicting such disparate subjects as the “over-vaccinations” of U.S. soldiers and the Bush administration’s inability to deal with the genuine North Korean WMD threat, indicates the lack of focus that, though apropos for poetry’s ambiguity, is a defect of this documentary, which examines the political maneuverings regarding African-American voting in the last two national elections.

The filmmakers don’t seem sure of what their subject is: the election in 2000? 2004? The GOP’s attempt to prevent Georgia Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney’s 2002 reelection, and the Republican all-out effort to smear her name? The experiences of fighting for voting rights by different black legislators? The Bush administration’s hypocrisy and deceit in the war on terror?

The doc ends up giving each issue short shrift. Its footage of hearings of voting violations; the abuse of protesters in the 1960s as recounted by Georgia Congressman John Lewis; and the stalking incident in which McKinney feared for her life are compelling, but having them play bit parts in the film tends to make the film a laundry list of racial bias.

However, Jesse Jackson and George W. Bush’s awkward encounter, McKinney’s calling-out of a Capitol Hill policeman for his casual racial profiling, and her takedown of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld at a House Armed Services hearing are jaw-dropping.

DVD Extras: McKinney’s relationship with her father should have been explored more. In one deleted scene, he is portrayed as being the reason she got into politics (literally – he first put her name on a ballot), and in another is described as having made ill-advised comments regarding the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) that were considered anti-Semitic. In another deleted segment, Naomi Klein’s discussion of Iraq as a makeshift free trade zone, and not a morass but “a capitalist’s dream” constituting another outlet to sell and establish commodities, mirrors some of the thinking of an increasing number of people (as well as the documentary Iraq for Sale: The War Profiteers). The alternate opening, with McKinney at its center, is more truthfully focused on what the film is about. (The film’s subtitle was originally The Lynching of Cynthia McKinney.)

As for the Capitol Hill police officers, it is chilling to hear them describe their experiences with racial discrimination. In 2006, McKinney was investigated for assaulting a white policeman who claimed not to recognize her despite, according to the officers, the requirement that they undergo congressional recognition training, and that a special memo had been sent out warning police to correctly identify McKinney. The officers have a feeling it was the result of a vendetta against her by the general counsel of the capitol police department. Disappointingly, this incident is also never fully described. Reymond Levy
October 25, 2006



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