Look Away, Look Away 2021
Distributed by Passion River Films, 154 Mt. Bethel Rd., Warren, NJ 07059; 732-321-0711
Produced by Patrick O'Connor and Margaret McMullan
Directed by Patrick O'Connor
Streaming, 89 mins
Flags; Mississippi; Race Relations; U.S. History
Date Entered: 03/17/2022Reviewed by Michael Pasqualoni, Librarian for Public Communications, Syracuse University Libraries
A revealing yet vexing vexillogical journey from 2015 thru 2020. Viewers of Look Away, Look Away take a trip that culminates in removal of Mississippi’s Confederate symbol bearing state flag. We examine the demise of the official sanctioning of that flag, flown since 1894, and its rejection by corporate American firms ranging from Walmart to Nascar. The documentary opens and closes with acts of white supremacist murder, traveling from the mass shooting by Dylann Roof in the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina to the murder by a white police officer of George Floyd in Minneapolis. A detailed chronology unfurls showing efforts of activists to replace a flag emblazed with a symbol long associated with slavery. We see and hear expressions by those who argue the symbol honors the war dead who fought for the south in the Civil War, and the opposition of activists intent on educating citizens on the association of the Confederacy with systematic subjugation by whites of people of color.
This film is an effective exposition to a discrete era in Mississippi and national U.S. history, chronicling arguments taking place over threatening symbols and monuments and calls for their removal. Donald J. Trump’s ascension into the Oval Office is a backdrop. On display is the role of these symbols for persons ranging from a Ku Klux Klan grand wizard to the granddaughter of former segregationist, Senator John Stennis, who appears to use advocacy for a new state flag design as an act of personal and familial redemption. The narrative verges a bit too close at times to a frustrating moral equivalence. The murders that bookend what we see are odd bedfellows with the film’s tendency to be a platform for those who passionately argue slavery was merely incidental to the war between the states, or even perhaps an institution enjoyed by the slave. It shares stark evidence of the stated commitment of the Confederacy to systematic exclusion, if not sanctioned murder, of the Negro. But its two sides to every story editing structure will frustrate more than a few advanced scholars and students of the subject matter. A merit deserving mention is what we see of interest to those who study the intersections of flags themselves with personal and political identities. It is a documentary recommended with reservations, and probably most suitable for the upper grade levels of K-12 teachers and students studying these events. In some segments, those people of color going on the journey in Look Away, Look Away may come away from the film’s editing choices saying, “I can’t breathe.”
Awards: Official Selection Georgia Film Festival 2021; Best Documentary, Audience Awards Oxford Film Festival 2021; Best Film, Audience Awards Oxford Film Festival 2021; Best Mississippi Film, Audience Awards Oxford Film Festival 2021; Honorable Mention for Documentary Feature for adept handling of a complicated topic, Oxford Film Festival Jury 2021
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