Concerning the racial cleansing that took place in a number of American communities during the early 20th century, Banished effectively evokes the manner in which events of the past are carried into the present via cultural traditions, artifacts, and unspoken local histories. Opening with a montage of charcoal drawings depicting riots and lynching, set to a somber, jazzy score, the film follows the efforts of several African-American families in finding recompense for their ancestor’s loss of land and life—a struggle that sees little common ground between those who feel the sorrow of a distraught family legacy and those who refuse to take blame for (and often work to cover up) the sins of their fathers and grandfathers. Although the land left behind by the purged families—who rarely had the time, or inclination, to sell it before fleeing for their lives—was undoubtedly stolen by their subsequent occupants, local laws of the time dictated that such occupancy for a given period of time was sufficient justification for a legal transfer of the deed, an unfortunate case that leaves many of the current owners blameless, despite the wrongs of the past. However, it isn’t money or goods that most of these people are after, but an understanding and acknowledgement of their plight and struggle, one generally ignored and forgotten by those who work—often unconsciously—to justify their racism and reinforce their communities’ white purity (a 1987 march in honor Martin Luther King Jr. in Forsyth County, Georgia is met with violent protests from no less than seven white power organizations, the Klan among them). Williams’s use of interviews and photographs is alternately angering and sobering, though one senses that a more gadfly-ish approach to the material could have yielded a stronger dialogue between these generally uncommunicative perspectives. Banished acts as a fine time capsule to the continued wrongs of racism, but its intentions to change things for the better could have stood for a stronger dosage of Michael Moore-style confrontation.
- 87 min
- Marco Williams
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