"American Violet" is a true story set in Texas. It’s about a woman unjustly incarcerated, not to mention bullied and disgraced. She is black, and, as the drama unfolds, we understand that this disgrace of justice is one of many perpetrated on minorities in at least one town.
Some might label it a liberal do-gooder film, and I suppose those who choose to call it that have a point. On the other hand, if the movie tells the truth, does it make sense to dismiss it with a label or relegate it to a trash bin?
There’s a story here — one that begs to be told. It’s about the travails of Dee Roberts, mother of four, who one day finds herself victimized, wrongly accused of drug trafficking in her Texas town.
As we learn, it’s not a case of wrongful identity, but part of a systematic retribution against blacks, coolly and cruelly orchestrated by a D.A. (Michael O’Keefe) with a sinister motive aimed not only at the deprivation of basic rights but at the systematic destruction of human dignity.
Incarcerated, Roberts rejects an offer of an easy way out of jail. It’s a plea bargain: 10 years’ probation but, along with the sentence, loss of services such as Medicare and access to other benefits like public housing.
DIRECTED BY Tim Disney
SCREENPLAY BY Bill Haney
STARRING Nicole Beharie, Tim Blake Nelson, Will Patton, Michael O’Keefe, Xzibit, Charles Dutton and Alfre Woodard
RUNNING TIME 103 minutes
For orchestrating these arrests and humiliations, the D.A. is a local hero who even today has his job.
The human urge for goodness is at work here. The ACLU gets its claws into this test case and, as a New York Jew, chief attorney David Cohen (Tim Blake Nelson) knows the stakes, as does his partner, played by Xzibit. Will Patton is the local attorney with a conscience who does the decent thing.
Finally, the troublemakers from the East can make a case and effect justice. These are the heroes Rush Limbaugh and slow-witted radio jocks love to attack with clichés. America’s yuck-yucks.
At the center of the drama is Nicole Beharie, who inhabits her role as a woman unjustly maligned with intelligence, conviction and regal sense of pride.
I do not know precisely how to respond if you think this is cliché. Truth is truth, and I wonder how often these charades pepper our country in parts other than Texas, where often it seems honeyed hoodlums run the government.
For the record, the victim’s real name is Regina Kelly. She has a Web site you might want to check out.