This 2008 drama tells the real life story of Regina Kelly, played by Nicole Beharie. Kelly, a single mother of four, and Robertson County resident of Texas was the victim of race-based drug enforcement tactics by the state’s police department. Despite no prior record or evidence of involvement with drugs, Kelly was arrested and indicted after a racially motivated raid targeted her neighborhood.
With the backing of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) Kelly sued the district attorney, who would eventually drop the charges against her and numerous other Black residents wrongfully charged.
Beharie plays a believable and enthralling Regina Kelly, whose name is changed to Dee Roberts in the film. You quickly forget it’s her in the role. Those subtleties & nuances I often talk about are still present, just tweaked ever so slightly to shape the character. Going into the film, I wondered how she was going to keep up with Alfre Woodard. The answer is: flawlessly. Despite being her first feature film and mainstream lead role, Beharie plays it like a veteran. She and Woodard play off of each other perfectly, enough to make you believe they’re actually mother and daughter.
Some critics loved it and some critics hated it – one going so far as to call it “glorified Lifetime rubbish,” adding it was a movie focused “on a real-life single mom who fought back against a corrupt system after being wrongfully charged…(wah-wah)” – a statement only someone of privilege could make. Some fans raved about this film, calling its telling of the true story “necessary,” and still others sound more like the previous critic and dismiss the film’s storyline as redundant, preachy, and overdone.
The Huffington Post got it though, stating, “The underlying message of the film is an important one. This sort of thing does indeed still happen in America. Racism has not magically disappeared.”
Perhaps the most interesting thing about this mixed bag of reviews is that all of them tend to have one thing in common: their review of Beharie’s performance. The same film critic who called American Violet “glorified Lifetime rubbish” immediately followed his statement with, “but Beharie is knock-you-out stellar in the lead role, and she easily made my personal Best Actress top five.”
Graham Boyd, the real-life ACLU lawyer in charge of Kelly’s case noted, “this situation has largely been hidden from public scrutiny – left to the shadows, it has greatly undermined both the fairness and effectiveness of our criminal justice system…the case proved a rare catalyst for deeply needed reform of a deeply entrenched injustice.”
The Huffington post went on to add, “There are still places in America where barely-disguised racism is not only deeply ingrained in American society, but also runs City Hall. American Violet is a story of one woman fighting back against such a system…if that isn’t enough reason to go see this film, then go see it because it is an impressive an powerful piece of filmmaking that won’t disappoint.”
Yea. Talk about mixed reviews.
The only reason I needed to see this film was Nicole Beharie.
Fangirling aside, I have to agree with the Huffington Post and say it’s a film everyone should see. Even though this was filmed in 2008 and the story took place in 2000, it’s just as relevant as ever. Director Tim Disney, Alfre Woodard, Charles Dutton, Xzibit, & Malcolm Barrett round out the cast that brought this compelling story to life.