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January 29, 2012

Documentary on US drug war wins top prize at Sundance Film Festival

The_House_I_Live_InIf I was a truly shrewd and savvy blogger, I would have figured out a way to go to this year's Sundance Film Festival and call it a work trip because of the screening of a new documentary on the US drug war titled "The House I Live In."  Instead, I am home just blogging about the news that this documentary won the top prize at Sundance for documentaries. This review from The Hollywood Reporter suggests reasons why the film has been well-received and why I am now extra eager to find a place to see it soon:

A potent cry for a drastic rethinking of America's War on Drugs, Eugene Jarecki's The House I Live In synthesizes many fairly familiar arguments, and some that are less so, into a case for viewing U.S. policies as a war on the lower class.  Balancing big-picture stats with personal perspectives, it should connect solidly with viewers at a moment when it seems possible to change public attitudes....

Working methodically, Jarecki's nearly two-hour film views the war from a number of perspectives too great to summarize here.  Crucially, while he speaks to academics who have long argued for drug-law reform, he also goes to those most directly involved in enforcing the laws: a U.S. District Court judge in Iowa, an Oklahoma corrections officer who's an avowed law-and-order man; numerous narcotics officers.  They tell him variations of the same thing: Our laws aren't working to decrease drug use; we're putting too many people away for too long and doing too much harm to their families.

Jarecki might have considered giving a co-writing credit to The Wire's David Simon, because while other interviewees offer damning stats and compelling perspectives, Simon returns throughout the film to crystallize big issues.  Describing an under-discussed side effect of the drug war, in which overtime pay goes to cops who make easy possession arrests while those spending their time on hard-to-solve violent crimes go unrewarded, he says our policy "makes a police department where nobody can solve a fucking crime."

Many of these statistics have popped up here and there in public discourse, and are simply being gathered into a digestible, infuriating package.  But House holds eye-opening surprises as well, like an interview with Abraham Lincoln scholar Richard Lawrence Miller: Looking through the history of American drug laws, Miller argues that legal substances were frequently demonized only when it became clear that making them illegal could help keep a threatening minority in check. (For example, Miller cites opium laws on the West Coast directed at Chinese immigrants.)

January 29, 2012 at 04:04 PM | Permalink


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“frequently demonized”

Curious, I thought the race-baiting & ‘classism’ tandem tripe-line went something like this:
|| ‘Opium only became a concern and deemed illicit when respectable Anglos came to frequent the dens of Chinatown.’ ||

It’s no doubt that many of the Chinese fell victim to prejudice and abuse. Nonetheless, opiates and the like were a threat to Chinese and native alike;
at a later date such were declared illegal and users were punished with tremendously greater brutality in China herself.

I’ll have to view it to assess the accuracy and eye-popping elements without further judgment. Howbeit Professor, creativity is not historicity.

Posted by: Adamakis | Jan 29, 2012 11:36:48 PM

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