3 April 2010 | caribstu
American Violet in need of some Miracle gro
Based on a true events, American Violet tells the story of Dee Roberts, played by Nichole Beharie, a young black single mother living in the poor neighbourhood of a small town in Texas. Dee Roberts, whilst life has not been easy for her, lives a model life, working hard, providing for her daughters and going to church on Sundays. Then, one day Dee finds her life turned upside down when she is arrested for drug dealing. Although innocent of the charges against her Dee is railroaded by the legal system and told plead is faced with a choice, accept the plea bargain of guilty and serve a suspended sentence, or fight to prove her innocence and risk 18 years to life. A poor single black mother in a fundamentally racist state she is backed up against a wall.
There are a couple of subplots intertwined with the main story, which help to keep it moving smoothly along, they do not distract from the main plot line but neither do they enhance it. Nichole Beharie, is not only stunningly beautiful, but solidly convincing as the true life character Dee Roberts, proof that beautiful women can act and don't rely on looks alone to land roles. There's some good strong supporting roles, all round performances, and nowhere does the film get too carried away with itself that it becomes over the top. Occasionally powerful, for instance some of the scenes involving Dee's child's father and the "deposition scene" had me leaning forward out from my seat. I did feel however, not powerful enough and nothing was made of the tension which would have undoubtedly arisen between Dee and the establishment in such a small town.
Although the story is based on true events, centering around Dee Roberts there's room for a more profound thread in the fact that the US legal system is so intractably flawed and combined with a penitentiary system which makes money from incarcerating increased numbers of felons> The US now has 1% (2.6 million) of it's population in prison, substantially higher than any other country in the world and 96% of inmates never stand trial but are forced into accepting plea bargains simply because they neither have the knowledge or the money to fight. Prisons make money from prison labour and the majority of those incarcerated are of black or latino origin, begging the question, has the US penal system simply become a modern day slavery? The film itself does not address this aspect directly, rather it skirts around the edges and attacks the shadow of this institutional racism and corruption not with a sword but a pocket knife. And here lies the biggest problem this film faces, how do you tackle a subject so complex as institutional racism and fit it into a glossy hour and 45 minute Hollywood movie without alienating most of the people you want to pay money at the box office? it's not easy, director Tim Disney, fails to find a solution to that problem electing to go with a non confrontational glossy approach, making me feel that perhaps someone more used to tackling these difficult social issues should have directed American Violet and giving it the punch it so desperately needed. You're left feeling slightly disturbed as you know how very true these issues are, but sadly not disturbed enough. Still, it's worth watching even if only for the delightfully beautiful Miss Beharie.