Yes, this is a work that’s heavier on tone that form, but what tone it is, capturing the sourness that clung to the mouths of the movement who based their principles on peace, love and interracial harmony. Ten minutes into the film, the director demonstrates a convoy of youths wandering their streets to the presence of an army brigade traipsing into their homes. It’s a startling shot – Democrat Presidents John F.Kennedy and Lyndon B.Johnson had concocted a series of policies that espoused the virtue of communal living, but were either unable or unwilling to push their ideologies to the feet of their government. Which isn’t to say the film lacks moments of levity.
When the film exhibits clips of the men who protested the Vietnam War, they are depicted as shabbily dressed orators, more the organisation of a rag-tag group of rabble-rousers as opposed to the militant wing they considered their outfit to be. Although the American government was embroiled in a war across the seas, they were devoting large numbers of their military powers propelling its country’s citizens back into their homes. What emerges isn’t closure but out and out confusion, which is fitting considering how bizarrely disorganised the powers were facing a mighty foe abroad when it could have been salvaging the plights, grievances and issues of its nation’s workforce.
Soberingly, their full force was captured on screen, and the film shows many innocent bystanders beaten for speaking a personal truth against war and for unity. What’s worse is how Little America (or Britain, for that matter) has progressed in the intervening years. Dense, eh?
Riotsville USA is in cinemas on Friday, March 31st. On all major VoD platforms the following week.