Desert Bayou

Posted October 26, 2007 in Film

In the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, 600 New Orleans residents—all black and homeless—were loaded on a plane and told only after takeoff that they were moving to Salt Lake City. The evacuees were literal fish-out-of-water: African-American Southern Baptists adrift in the conservative Mormon enclave whose Good Book fingered dark skin as a sign of spiritual disease. Suspicion clouded their resettlement. Officials searched them like terrorists (in case they grabbed anthrax instead of photo albums), routed them through three criminal background checks, and quarantined them under curfew on a military base an hour out of town. “If they were white, they’d have given them hotels,” observed a wry resident. Alex LeMay’s documentary encroaches upon big questions about race, poverty, and entitlement, trivialized by a padded plot, disruptive rehashes as though we’re continually coming back from commercials, and a grandstanding narrator whose rhetorical indignation recalls Unsolved Mysteries. (“Will the cultural differences in Utah be too much to overcome?” it intones.) Guileless rather than exploratory, the film is at once too sweeping and too obsessed with trivia, oversubscribing to every emotion from accusations of racism to cheers that “We’re all the same!” From LeMay’s thematic schizophrenia creep forward uncomfortable contradictions, foundationally that it agrees with sociologist Beverly Wright that the media stereotype blacks as uneducated thugs and rappers, while its own main characters are crack addicts, ex-cons, and Master P. (Amy Nicholson)      


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