It’s the latest work from Eugene Jarecki, who’d previously made the brilliant The Trials Of Henry Kissinger in 2002. And who is also the brother of Andrew, who made the extraordinary Capturing The Friedmans in 2003.
The House I Live In gives an overview of America’s so called “War On Drugs”, which began officially with Richard Nixon in the early 70s. In reality though, its roots are buried deep in race.
It began with the successive moves to outlaw each of the different drugs favoured by the various groups of ethnic immigrants. That started with the criminalization of opium at the turn of the 20th century, in response to the influx of Chinese workers to the West coast.
Cannabis, cocaine and heroine followed as blacks and Hispanics were similarly targeted. This racism by default reached its nadir in the 80s when the mandatory sentence for crack cocaine was made 100 (one hundred!) times harsher than for ordinary coke, based on the kinds of people who were more likely to be caught using them.
This by the way has only very recently been reduced to a difference of a mere 14 times, despite the fact that everyone knows they are essentially the same thing.
The film brilliantly marshals an extraordinary amount of research and molds it into a coherent narrative. But never one that’s in any way simplistic, or un-necessarily bombastic. Despite the fact that it’s a passionately, and understandably angry film about what the war on drugs has done to the mostly black and always impoverished members of society there.
It perfectly combines personal testament, such as the moving story of the Jarecki family housekeeper and how her family was effected, with the carefully considered views of seasoned professionals in the area. The strongest of whom is The Wire’s David Simon, who worked for 12 years as a crime journalist on the Baltimore Sun, before taking all of that extensive and depressing experience and turning it into riveting drama.
It’s very hard to watch this film and not feel incredibly depressed about modern day America. All you can say is that, at the very least, this is an American film, and as such is a magnificent example of the freedom of speech and expression that that country fosters and encourages.
And the fact that there are people like Jarecki making films like this. And that people like Danny Glover, Brad Pitt and musician John Legend are all keen to help him do so by acting as Executive Producers on it. And that the people interviewed in it are all of them heroically trying to do something to help change the status quo, offers some cause for hope.
It’s part of BBC4’s superb Storyville series, so keep your eye out for it there. Either way, if at all you can, see it. You can see the trailer here.
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