If there is one film in recent memory that truly emphasizes self-empowerment and reflects the brokerage of peace between citizens and law enforcement, it’s Marilyn Ness’ Charm City (2018). The film embodies those commitments in surround sound. Ness’ filmic space meditates on a world of grief, rage, trauma, and hopefulness as experienced by the documentary participants living and working in Baltimore before and after Freddie Gray dies in police custody.
Spectators are given an intimate view of violence, distrust of the police, and the community heroes who know the infinite value of their own neighbors. The film takes us to a world where residents are disillusioned by the perceived lack of respect for their lives from both peers and law enforcement officers. American violence is embedded into the psyche of our society. It is an uncontrollable nightmare that envelops the nation, and is treated with a mix of apathy and indifference by many.
When we learn toward the film’s conclusion that a sister of an anti-violence activist has been murdered, this scene elicits a vivid sense of hopelessness and terror which underscores the fact that anyone’s life is expendable, especially in the United States. One light in the specter of violence is Mr. C, an easily accessible figure of stability who stresses the need for gratitude and self-love. His credo is a direct affront to the myth forced on urban neighborhoods that skin color and zip code make the individual less-deserving and less-than.
When Mr. C falls ill, the community is alarmed, but our elderly hero resumes his place as a patriarch living to ensure that the next generation keeps working to achieve its fullest collective potential. Perhaps the most powerful moments of the documentary are the conversations between police officers and community members. In these scenes, estrangement collapses and yields a journey towards mutual understanding.
Charm City is a blueprint of practiced empathy nearly obliterated by an American culture of hostile discourse justified by the First Amendment. Ness shows us that true life sustains itself when closure of wounds and trust-building exceeds self-interests.
Charm City is distributed by Big Mouth Productions, and is available on DVD and to stream on Amazon Prime Video, Google Play, Kanopy, VUDU, and YouTube. Follow Charm City on Facebook, Twitter and on the film’s website, and follow Marilyn Ness on Twitter.
Jasmine May is a screenwriter and holds a Film BA (Cum Laude) from California State University, Sacramento. Her lifelong goal is to help achieve equitable representation in the cinematic arts.
You can find Jasmine on Letterboxd.