Blallywood Film Review: The House I Live In
Lately we’ve heard a lot about the “fiscal cliff,” unemployment, and healthcare. The most recent election season was evidence that our country is at war, not only in the Middle East, but also within our own borders. American citizens are divided on virtually every major political issue and progress sometimes seems to take hold at a snail’s pace. There is another form of war that has been a political issue since the late 60s and, for some reason, we’ve heard little about it- until now.
The House I Live In is about the destructive American policies on drug use that have been in place since the Nixon Administration. The focus is appropriately whittled to discuss the affect drugs have had on one family in particular, the Jeter family, who’s matriarch (Nannie Jeter) was the filmmaker’s housekeeper. Exploring rural sections of the Midwest and the quiet suburbs of the northeast, filmmaker Eugene Jarecki convincingly draws a parallel between the American “War on Drugs” and a class-based holocaust, highlighting a justice system that disproportionately imprisons minority users over their white counterparts.
Some gripping statistics presented are that there are more blacks in prison today than there were slaves in 1850. And though black folks make up just 13% of crack users in America, they make up 90% of those convicted on crack charges. He also thoroughly explains the crack vs. powder cocaine conviction disparities that you’ve probably heard about but never had fully unpacked. These harrowing statistics paint an upsetting picture that Jarecki brilliantly uses to tell the story of how countless black families across America are destroyed, losing mothers, fathers, sisters, and brothers to outrageous mandatory sentencing laws tying the hands of judges and lawyers trying to keep nonviolent offenders out of prison. Jarecki estimates that that the federal government has spent upwards of $1 Trillion on this “War on Drugs” and the proliferation of drug use has more than doubled.
This film explores many subsequent topics to the main theme, but perhaps what it does best is examine causality as it relates to the history of drug use in America, how these laws ended up on the books, and more importantly, WHY aren’t they working to curtail drug use in our country. He attributes much of the issue to the demonization of the “drug user.” Drugs aren’t new and the war on drugs has never been about drugs. Drugs were more widely accepted in the earliest part of the 19th century and those struggling with addictions to substances like opium or hemp were hospitalized and treated with compassion. Jarecki suggests that attacking drug use provided an avenue for the government to systematically disenfranchise races of people. These people then become a common enemy for the government to attack at the rallying support of the American people. As we saw during America’s War on Terror or worst yet, Nazi Germany’s war on the Jewish community, a common enemy is an unwavering source of pride and unification for a country unable to look past the symptoms of an epidemic to deal with the root.
The moral of the story? Addictive behavior is the result of pain and suffering, and focusing on the addiction instead of the pain and suffering is like treating the cough of someone dying of lung cancer. The cough may subside temporarily, but the cancer continues to grow under the surface. Fantastic documentary. Check it out! A.