The Neutral Ground is shown in theaters and is also the opening program of PBS’s acclaimed POV series. It can be streamed from POV.org until August 2nd.
“Race is about American history and each of our own stories. Overcoming racism is more than an issue or a cause – it is also a story that can also be part of any of our stories when our nation was embedded in America was a lie; it’s time to change the story and discover a new one.
“Understanding and talking to our own stories about races is absolutely essential if we are to be part of the larger pilgrimage to defeat racism in America.”
– Jim Wallis in America’s Original Sin
CJ Hunt is a New York City comedian and filmmaker currently field producer with Trevor Noah on the Daily Show. He was in New Orleans in 2015 when the city council voted to remove four Confederate monuments from prominent locations in the city. Upon learning of the controversial debate surrounding this decision, he decides to question politicians, protesters for the monuments and his own father about what these statues are still projecting about the causes of the civil war. He doesn’t expect this assignment to expose so deeply his ideas, ideals, and emotions about being a black man.
Hunt is amazed at the large numbers of white citizens, politicians, and judicial officers (then and now) who praise and even revere slavery as the cornerstone of the economic, cultural, and even moral influence of the South. Even more startling are the power and presence of the Confederate hereditary groups and the stories they tell about slaves who love their owners and prefer to stay on plantations rather than face the danger in the outside world. This version of southern culture has been heralded as the “Lost Cause” in family stories, newspapers, and films.
More of this is heralded in Civil War reenactments in which proud southerners don riot gear to fight the hated Yankees. Hunt attends the event so that he can hear the stories and experience the emotions of the participants. But it is still a mystery to him. Moving from Mississippi to a white racist march in Charlottesville, Virginia, Hunt is both shocked and scared to face the violence and death. He later witnesses the cheering in the crowd as the Confederate statues are removed.
This documentary follows Hunt’s journey from the indifferent black to one who takes part in a ritual revival march of the slave rebellion. In one of the most moving scenes, he visits Whitney Plantation to see a memorial to the 1811 slave revolt made up of only heads that reflect what happened when the slaves were killed. He wonders, as we do, why so many stories of the victims of slavery have not been told over the generations.