Reel Shorts | American Violet

17 04 2009


A young Texas woman unjust treatment at the hands of a racist District Attorney creates a firestorm that changed her life as well as the laws in her community in the thought-provoking drama, “American Violet.” Anchored by a powerful lead performance from rising newcomer, Nicole Beharie, she elevates the material from “movie of the week” to one of the most important stories of the year.

24-year old single mother of four, Dee Roberts (Beharie) is going about her business serving customers at a sleepy Texas diner. Unbeknown to her, District Attorney Calvin Beckett (Michael O’Keefe) has ordered a surprise drug sweep in her neighborhood. Within moments, police officers burst into the diner and apprehend the subject of their investigation – the waitress Roberts. Thinking that she was apprehended because of overdue parking tickets, she soon learns that she has been accused of distributing drugs in a school zone and locked down with her bail set at $70k.

Professing her innocence, Roberts is given faulty representation who encourages her to accept a plea deal consisting of a suspended ten-year sentence which would release her immediately to reconnect with her family. But Roberts remains defiant and also learns that taking a plea would result in her losing her government assistance as well as her family’s apartment. With pressure from her mother, Alma Roberts (Alfre Woodard) and the threat her mother will let them spend time with their unstable baby’s daddy, Darrell Hughes (Xzibit), Roberts develops a steely resolve to clear her name.

At the urging of Reverend Sanders (Charles Dutton), the case draws the attention of ACLU lawyer David Cohen (Tim Blake Nelson) who has been looking for the right plaintiff to lodge a case against the overly-aggressive and racist D.A. Unable to “speak the language” and unsure of the small-town culture, Cohen enlists help from reluctant local attorney Sam Conroy (Will Patton) to help cut through the Texas BS. The two find a willing lead participant in Roberts in whose name they launch a lawsuit against Beckett.

With 95 percent of Melody, Texas’ residents accepting plea deal, there is more than enough incentive for the random drug sweeps in Black neighborhoods to cease. Even affecting the minds of the young and disenfranchised, Beckett wields powerful influence in his county and it will take everything measure of fortitude, determination and sheer luck that Roberts and her team can muster to break his death grip over the not only her but the entire community as well.

Based on a true story during the backdrop of the contentious 2000 Presidential race between George W. Bush and Al Gore, “American Violet” is a study in the politics of racial discrimination and how unchecked it creates a situation where one man can consolidate enough power to remain in office for life, keeping the Black citizens disenfranchised and afraid and soothing the fears of the White community for keeping everyone in line. Politics aside, director Tim Disney condenses the story and keeps it moving keeping the focus of the story on the riveting newcomer Beharie. Displaying equal parts wonderment, muted rage and steely determination, she announces her presence in a major way headlining this complex story in only her second film.

Featuring solid performances from it’s veteran cast, namely O’Keefe, Patton, Woodard, Dutton and shining in a very limited role Anthony Mackie, the film which draws it’s name from the violet plant that Roberts takes care of that becomes a symbol of renewed hope for her and her town. But it is largely because of the film’s “American Violet,” Beharie that this story maintains much of it’s substance and it’s credibility. We’re betting that once producers notice her work here, we’ll see a lot more this talented ingenue in the future.

Grade: B+




2 responses

17 04 2009
American Violet Review

[…] Original post: American Violet Review […]

19 06 2012
Lisa cotton

I am interested in a copy of this movie.

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