I was honored to have the opportunity to catch a screening of American Violet's Texas premiere at the Paramount Theatre during Austin's SXSW Film Festival. The film tells the important story of Dee Roberts drug arrest in Melody, Texas in 2000. The story of the abuse of power by the criminal justice system is an important one that most Americans are not terribly familiar with. The story is generally well-acted and compelling as we are drawn through the story of Dee's clearly false arrest and prosecution. The line between fact and dramatic license does remain a little foggy and there is particularly unbelievable scene in which the local district attorney acts as some sort of family court judge who oversees a hearing to determine the custody of Dee's 4 children.
The legal focus of the film does tend to bounce around from one issue to another – the problem of forced plea bargaining, the misuse of Federal drug task forces, the use of dishonest informants, the problem of fighting a "war on drugs," and finally focusing on blatant racism of District Attorney. All of these issues are certainly present in the criminal justice system, but the relationship and role of each is often confusingly presented and blurs the legal focus of the film. Nevertheless, the story remains powerful and the presentation is a potent one.
Regardless of the limitations, some of which are inherent in the criminal docudrama, the film is well worth seeing, because of the important story that it tells about complex interaction between race, poverty and the criminal justice system that is often obscured from the view of much of the American public. The film deserves to be seen by those who still doubt the critical role of racism in American society - particularly in the criminal justice system.
A single mother struggles to clear her name after being wrongly accused and arrested for dealing drugs in an impoverished town in Texas.
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