American Violet: Unjust in Justice System

Movie based on true story examines failures in America’s legal system

The E Street Cinema hosted a special screening of American Violet on Tuesday giving moviegoers a chance to see the film before it hits theaters on Friday. The movie is based on the real-life experience of Regina Kelly, a single mother wrongly arrested and charged during a disastrous drug sweep in Hearne, Texas in 2000.

In the opening scene Dee Rogers, played by newcomer Nicole Beharie, is preparing breakfast for her daughters before leaving to work. The scene cuts to officers getting ready for a raid. Helicopters are flying over the housing project in which Rogers lives with her four daughters. Her mother Alma Rogers (Alfre Woodard) is watching the small girls as the drug task force officers storm their housing projects. Audience members were glued to their seats as the compelling story started to unfold.

D.C. resident Jessica Ross shared her thoughts on the movie, “I can’t believe how discriminating the law can be.”

As the movie points out, there is a huge imbalance between minorities and whites in the prison system; the justice system incarcerates blacks at a rate approaching 10 percent, mostly for drug crimes. A study was conducted by Justice Policy Institute, which compared the nation’s 200 largest counties prison records. It stated that 97 percent of those counties sent blacks to prison more often than whites for drug-related convictions.

What’s special about this film is the time in which it is being released. Some of the drug laws are changing and the movie is based in a time period when the drug laws were heaviest.

“In today’s society, there is a much greater public interest on the just and unjust judicial system than in previous years. There is more of a cultural and social awareness that much more often than not, there is no “good cop” defending the innocent from within the system and that the problems of criminal justice corruption are much more cultural and institutional than they are ‘a few bad apples,'”says Tony Clark a moviegoer that attended a special screening of American Violet in New York.

When former New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller pushed through the state legislature a set of rigid anti-drug laws, known as the “Rockefeller laws” the most severe in the nation, it was obvious other states would follow. The purpose of these laws was to deter citizens from using or selling drugs and to punish and isolate from society those who were not deterred. The adopted slogan, “three strikes and you’re out” became reality for many criminals convicted on drug related charges.

Nearly four decades after its passing, the Rockefeller laws have eased greatly. Under the current New York Governor, David Paterson, judges have sole discretion to order nonviolent addicts to treatment instead of jail and ends mandatory jail time for first-time offenses in which violence plays no part.

By the end of the movie there was a clear consensus of satisfaction.

“The movie was so good, and intense,” says Precious Mcphee. Mcphee received an e-mail giving her the heads up on the sneak preview, “I subscribe to Landmark Theaters special events and I got an e-mail last week telling me there was a special viewing of the movie.”

Directed by Tim Disney, American Violet has an important message about the massive failures of America’s legal system. The movie begins Friday, April 17 and is rated PG-13.