Written and directed by Rachel Boynton(“Our Brand is Crisis”), and shot over several years, this film visits the northern and southern regions of the United States to tell the It is very important here to separate the Civil War from the Reconstruction period. In terms of subject matter, the film treads familiar ground—the impact these events have on modern life was a constant media topic during the Obama and Trump presidencies. But his thesis that the North won the Civil War and the South won Reconstruction—through lynching, voter suppression, Jim Crow laws, and other forms of powerlessness—will be revealed to young students, and anyone else whose school past obscures or distorts deeper. the meaning of the events.
Boynton and his crew spent time in various states that existed during the Civil War, notably Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Kentucky, Tennessee and Mississippi, and examined the attitudes, practices, and types you would expect to see examined in a film like this. There are re-enactors of the Old South-loving Civil War and descendants of aggrieved Confederates who feel attacked every time they see statues glorifying the Confederacy toppled, or hear historians There were black and white Northerners and liberals who seemed pleased that the sentiments of former slave owners had finally become not only morally repugnant in the United States, but also socially unacceptable.
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There is also a sub-theme of what the Civil War really was. Boynton didn’t spend much energy pampering those who insisted that the war was “really” about State rights. Leading historians’ answers are several variations of The right do do what? , and the filmmaker asked the question or let someone else do it for him. It’s fascinating to watch re-examined people regress to bromide on federal government outreach or alternative timelines where slavery is voluntarily abolished, as if forced slavery zones were morally no worse than the smoking section of restaurants in the 1990s. Half of the men’s team tending graves for the dead Confederates took a “Good Germany” point of view, stating, “I will fight for the south. It has nothing to do with political reasons. My house is under attack.” (His use of the verb tense is interesting—as if he was there during the war.)
The film garners as much empathy as possible for white people who are still captivated by the fantasy of living during the Confederacy, especially as they struggle with the question of whether slave-free people today owe anything to the descendants of slaves, or if they continue to benefit economically from slavery. . But as the film progresses, it becomes clear that what is really being talked about is truth, reconciliation, and a national reprogramming. Visits with esteemed Civil War historians, as well as academics specializing in Afro-American eradication, liberation, and studies, taking in group therapy sessions are intimate, mutually validating, warm feelings for survivors of abuse: there’s finally a space where survivors can talk about what happened to them, without being told it never happened,
There’s a bit of a fashionable podcast style, “What’s the truth, really, and what’s the story?” framing, and it spoils the film’s impact a bit. times where you hear the crew talk or see them setting up the lighting equipment. .
But these touches rarely add anything substantive, and sometimes they (accidentally) get in the way of the project’s rhetorical thrust, which says, in essence, that this isn’t a “Rashomon”-type situation where you can argue about what happened, why. it happens, and what it means. There is a fundamental objective truth, namely that the nation is at war against slavery and equality, but for far too long certain Americans have denied that, and perpetuated their rejection in law and culture. Of course this film is about story and storytelling and who controls a narrative. Repeating that much in a film like this is like taking a Sharpie marker and scribbling the word “eggs” on the side of a cardboard that is clearly designed
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The second half of “Civil War” is stronger than the first because Boynton goes out of his way and lets the subject and the images show his point. A passage with a young white high school student repeating pro-Confederate talking points under the guise of examining the topic “logically” distills certain types of modern discourse to its slick essence. 1960s educational film footage telling students that Union and Confederate soldiers were just good people fighting for what they believed in; accumulated shots of contemporary Southern landscapes with preserved Civil War cannons; close-up of black high school students in classrooms or in interview chairs rolling their eyes at white insistence that the Civil War was all about federal outreach:
The closing five minutes of the film are powerful, and the final shot is a knockout, because by then Boynton has hooked into pure filmmaking mode, letting each shot make its own argument. the curriculum is approved by people who are primarily concerned with avoiding discomfort and maintaining the status quo.