Normally I don’t like to see documentaries. I’ve seen enough one-sided documentaries in the previous decade to turn me off them. However I took an interest in Time. Injustice to African-Americans has been a heated topic this year and I felt Time was worth seeing.
The documentary consists mostly of filmed footage from court appearances, church appearances and camera phone videos of various moments and shown in black and white. The film begins with Sibil Fox Richardson trying to get a result back from the legal system for the freedom of her husband Robert. Robert was sentenced to prison for 60 years for an armed robbery he committed. It was his first offence. It’s a sentence many, including Sybil, feel is unjust and she’s working to get him freed.
The story is a long process as Sibil is trying to get a result or even a simple answer from the Louisiana Justice Department. It’s been a long wait over years. Each time she’s been calling, she gets a message that they don’t have a result or even an answer for her. Even when they give Sibil a due date when they’ll have it ready, it’s the same response: no answer.
You may ask how did this all start? It was in the 1990’s when Robert and Sibil had plans to start a business of their own. They planned on starting a sportswear store of their own in Lafayette. It seemed destined for promise as sportswear was all the rage in the 1990’s and Lafayette is a big football town. However business didn’t go as well as they hoped. The two decided to rob a bank in 1997; Robert did the robbery and Sibil drove the getaway car. They were eventually caught and convicted. Robert’s sentence was 60 years in prison and Sibil’s was 2 1/2 years.
Since Sibil’s release, she’s been able to get her life together. She’s been able to maintain a successful career, become a responsible member of the community, and has had six children — all boys including two twins — through Robert. She’s also done a very good job of raising her sons. Her oldest son graduated from a medical college. Her twins are also very good academically. One son is on the school debating team and plans to pursue a career in justice.
One thing is still missing. Robert is not free from prison. His prison sentence was excessive. Sibil has stayed loyally married to Robert during the time and it has been her goal to get him out of prison. It’s a goal in which she’s been struggling with for years involving lawyers, court appearances, legal department negotiations, and even media interviews. She even has a life-sized picture of Robert in his prison uniform glued to a cardboard cutout in the kitchen. It’s a reminder to her and her sons what she’s fighting for.
The battle is undoubtedly a personal one. She loves Robert unconditionally, but it’s hard seeing him imprisoned. It’s hard for her to see it both as a wife and as a mother. She knows how hard it is for her sons to see their father imprisoned. It’s hard when the Justice Department promises something by a certain date, and even has a time limit by law, but they don’t have the answers and it is delayed. She’s polite about it over the phone to whoever she calls about it, but her angry feelings become obvious once she hangs up. It’s also a personal burden for her with her being the getaway driver of the robbery. She served her time, raised her family well, received forgiveness from others, but something’s missing. She may have been forgiven by others, but she never asked her own mother for forgiveness. She’s even seen at her local church during a service asking for forgiveness from her community.
SPOILER WARNING: Do not read this paragraph if you don’t want to know the ending. However at long last, Robert is free. We see the video of the day Robert is released and driven home by Sibil. The trip ends with a kiss: the first kiss during Robert’s freedom! The family celebrates with a backyard barbecue. The final act of the celebration is the family can take the cardboard picture of Robert and burn it on the barbecue.
This is a case of the right documentary at the right time. Systemic racism has been a very heated topic of 2020. George Floyd isn’t the first African-American to be killed at the hands of police. Police brutality has caused the deaths of many African Americans for decades. However when the news and video hit the public eye, the outrage grew. It was like the outrage over a common injustice had been hidden for so long and just exploded at that moment. Like a bubble bursting. It’s especially frustrating when they live in a country with a president who denies the wrongdoing and wants to label protesters ‘thugs’ and ‘extremists’ all for the sake of winning the upcoming Presidential Election. And talk from right-wing media pundits who remind the public of crime statistics involving African Americans aren’t helping to put out the fire either. The outrage was not restricted to the United States. Protests were worldwide as people were united in solidarity not only of what happened in the US but of racism in their own countries.
This documentary is about another failure of the system towards African-Americans: the justice system. In the 1980’s, a lot of Tough On Crime acts were enforced into law. This has especially hurt African Americans as prison populations escalated and African Americans make up more of the percentage of prisoners that white prisoners. Much of the problem is predominantly black neighborhoods being overpoliced and black convicts receiving harsher prison sentences. While crime by whites have gone either overlooked or underpunished.
The documentary gives a very good example of this injustice. It puts a human face on what it’s like to be the wife of a husband of a harsh prison sentence. Times like these make you wonder what they’d give a white man who committed the same crime. Sibil comes across as a strong woman who’s determined to beat the odds on the outside, but her inner frailty soon becomes obvious. She ends a phone call with the justice board politely despite the disappointing news, but speaks her anger about how she feels about it. She isn’t afraid to speak her mind about the racism she senses once the call ends. She’s proud of how her sons have grown up but she is still upset that they’ve all only own their father behind bars. She talks of how difficult, but necessary, it is to keep her family intact. She even wrestles with the personal demon of being part of the crime. She served her full sentence long ago and appears to have more than made up for it, but personal things like repentance to those she hasn’t repented to still bother her. The use of personal camera work is best at showing the human side of the matter because it gets the honesty of what’s happening.
The film focuses on the injustice, but it also focuses on rays of hope. Getting Robert freed from prison isn’t the only ray of hope in the film. The first ray of hope is seen in Sibil’s own life and parenting. Sibil is an oddsbeater. She refuses to make a repeat offender of herself. She’s become a responsible person in her community and church. She acknowledges the past wrongs she and her husband did and wants to move forward. As for parenting, statistics state children of parents in prison most likely grow up to become criminals themselves. That’s not the case for her sons. Their oldest graduates from a medical college. Both of her twins do well in high school and one is active on the school debating team. He plans on pursuing a career in justice. I’m sure seeing the unfairness his father endured is probably what fuels his ambition. The husband’s freedom is also a symbol of why it’s important never to quit on doing the right thing. There are a lot of injustices to overcome, but it’s worth it no matter how hard it gets.
The biggest praise should go to director Garrett Bradley. This film won the Best Director award in the US Documentary competition at the Sundance Film Festival (the first African American director to win this award), the Charles Guggenheim Emerging Artist Award and the Filmmaker Award at the Full Frame Documentary Film Festival.
Bradley does an excellent job in showing the images that tell the story. With straight film footage that doesn’t have a voiceover and allows the main subject do most of the talking, we get a no-nonsense undistorted story and a proper unmanipulated point of view. Filming takes places from multiple angles and we get the truth exposed. It presents the solution, but also with the huge problems it overcomes. Showing the images in black and white is appropriate because while justice shouldn’t be black and white, the system has turned it into a black and white issue. Even titling the film Time adds to the film’s quality. It’s about time served, time to rebuild your life, time to make a family happen, time to raise your children, more-that-necessary time behind bars and the seemingly-endless time to make justice for your husband happen. Above all, the time to tell the whole story and time to expose the problems in achieving the solution.
Time is more than just an excellent non-nonsense documentary that does an honest portrayal of its theme. It’s the exact documentary we need at a time like this. Also it’s a reminder that ‘Liberty and Justice for all,’ should mean all! No exceptions!
Ever notice how in the news there’s always a story that comes from nowhere and is not worth paying any mind, until some loudmouth makes a hullabaloo about it? It’s funny that while Japan is recovering from a tsunami, earthquake and nuclear meltdown, and Libya is fighting a war to depose a dictator, there’s a minor story that makes a lot of loud news. It happened this week when the picture on the right that was featured in an e-catalog from J.Crew got on a conservative pundit’s nerves to the point he spoke out about it. And it has since drawn a lot of reactions since Tuesday.
It all started when J.Crew sent out its e-catalog to subscribers on Tuesday April 5th. For those unfamiliar, J. Crew is a clothing store known for its colorful preppy looking clothes. Its most famous customer is First Lady Michelle Obama. Included is a Saturday With Jenna column written by J. Crew president and creative director Jenna Lyons. On that column’s front page that weekend was that picture of her having fun with her 5 year-old son Beckett. Why should that cause controversy? Because the fun she had with Beckett was painting his toenails with pink nail polish. She even included in the Quality Time caption: “Lucky for me, I ended up with a boy whose favorite color is pink. Toenail painting is way more fun in neon.”
Some of the J. Crew customers who received that ad would look at it as something funny and some might raise their eyebrows over it. It was able to stay away from being a complete controversy, until Tuesday April 12th. That’s when FOX News Psychologist Dr. Keith Ablow made these comments:
Yeah, well, it may be fun and games now, Jenna, but at least put some money aside for psychotherapy for the kid—and maybe a little for others who’ll be affected by your “innocent” pleasure.
This is a dramatic example of the way that our culture is being encouraged to abandon all trappings of gender identity—homogenizing males and females when the outcome of such “psychological sterilization” is not known.
Dr. Ablow further goes on to talk about the benefits and goods of gender distinctions and continues:
Jenna Lyons and J. Crew seem to know exactly what they’re up to. That’s why the photograph of Jenna’s son so prominently displays his hot pink, neon toe nails. These folks are hostile to the gender distinctions that actually are part of the magnificent synergy that creates and sustains the human race. They respect their own creative notions a whole lot more than any creative Force in the universe.
Dr. Ablow wasn’t the only right wing pundit speaking their mind on this. Four days earlier, Erin M. Brown, writer for the Culture and Media Institute website, wrote an article on the ad which she declared ‘blatant propaganda celebrating transgendered children’. She then went on to say: “Not only is Beckett likely to change his favorite color as early as tomorrow, Jenna’s indulgence (or encouragement) could make life hard for the boy in the future. J.CREW, known for its tasteful and modest clothing, apparently does not mind exploiting Beckett behind the façade of liberal, transgendered identity politics.”
Since the ad controversy, there have been a lot of responses. Numerous news stories in websites, newspapers and television have featured the heated issue. All three major networks have done discussions about this. They’ve interviewed parents on the street: some were freaked out while some liked it. Psychiatrists interviewed have said it’s normal for children to play cross-dressing games. Some news stories showed celebrity parents including Gwen Stefani with pictures of their own boys wearing nail polish. Alyona Minkovski from RT Network responded: “Look people. Mom’s actually spending time with her child having fun, which is a lot more than what I can say about a lot of parents out there who tend to neglect their children. And if painting your child’s toenails is a way for a child and parent to connect, then have at it.” Jon Stewart even talked about it on his Daily Show, declaring the fiasco ‘Toemageddon 2011’ and commenting: “You make it sound like it’s a story about incest or cannabalism…You’re all aware that nail polish comes off, right? You’re all acting like this lady gave her son an ‘I Love Cock’ tattoo.” For the record, J. Crew have not responded because they ‘don’t want to add fuel to a non-issue.’
Even amongst the internet, there have been responses. Youtubers have also spoken their mind with one man even paining his fingernails pink. On the opposite side, there’s been at least one video in support of the complaining pundits, from the channel Final Justice Movement. Bloggers have posted their opinions. Message boards have also been loaded with comments both for the ad ‘what century is this?’ and against this ‘This is disgusting!’ Change.org started a petition thanking J.Crew ‘for the heartwarming ad’ and received 7500 signatures. The 10 year-old son of a writer for Wired magazine painted his fingernails green in response. There’s even a Pink Piggies page on Facebook where the page honors ‘people of all gender identities.’
One thing I like to say is that it’s another example of how people like to raise a big fiasco of just about anything. I’ve seen it from both the left and right side of people raising a big fuss over something simple. It seems like the thing nowadays to be offended about anything. Years ago, people were declaring The Passion Of The Christ to be anti-Semitic when it’s the story of Christ’s crucifixion that has been played out many times in the past including on film. Recently after the movie Mars Needs Moms was released, a gay Youtube personality posted on his Twitter page that it’s very offensive to non-traditional families. And now we have right-wing pundits taking a crack at this ad. Do people enjoy getting offended?
Yes, it’s a different parent-child bonding scenario but it’s not worth declaring ‘propaganda’ to turn into an issue for headlines’ sake. I also agree with Alyona: in case you didn’t notice, there’s a load of joy between Jenna and Beckett in that picture. It’s very common for parents to neglect their children in their busy lives so a moment like that should be considered fun.Secondly I don’t think paining a son’s toenails pink makes him gay. His orientation has already formed itself even before he was born. In addition when I brought this story up at work, one of my co-workers mentioned that she painted her nephew’s fingernails and they had a fun time together. Weeks later when she brought up ‘nail polish’, he said “That’s girls stuff.” So what does that tell you? Also I admire J. Crew for not responding to this and dismissing it for the ‘non-issue’ that it is.