Flag Wars

Reviewed By Chris Parry
Posted 03/17/03 21:20:30

"When good neighbors go bad."
4 stars (Worth A Look)

Some folks really like their crappy neighborhoods. Sure, there might be rusting cars on the lawn and crumbling paint on every wall, but when you own your own home, surely you retain the right to keep it in as crappy a condition as you want, right? Well, not exactly. In Columbus Ohio, a local community was recently torn when the predominantly black local neighborhood was invaded by an affluent new group; one that had plenty of money, lots of contacts and the desire to pretty things up for a profit. While that might sound like a good thing for the neighborhood, a little money goes a long way – and so does a little power. As the original locals soon found out, when the ‘rainbow warriors’ of the growing gay community decided they wanted to play Trading Spaces and buy up property for renovation, the local planning authorities are more than happy to help free up that property by finding ‘code violations’ in the homes of the blue-collar families who already live there. These code violations sometimes demand thousands of dollars in renovations to be undertaken in a short amount of time – thousands of dollars that these people just don’t have. Of course... they could always just sell up and move.

It’s funny how every minority group claims to have the moral high ground and be victimized by someone else, but none of them practice what they preach. While the gay community have long preached tolerance, a closer look at what goes on when they have a position of power shows the exact same abuses being exacted by them as have traditionally been exacted upon them. Flag Wars director Linda Goode Bryant takes her camera into the lives of these suburban insurrectionists and shows that, while there’s nothing wrong with buying a home and doing it up, some of these guys will take deliberate and even nasty steps to ensure they can get the property they want. The camera also goes behind the scenes at the offices of the local county officials, who seem to be more than happy to take any opportunity to help the folks with the cash unseat the folks without any cash.

But it would be wrong to say the gay folks are the bad guys here. While they’re engaging in their right to engage in capitalistic endeavor, a gentleman who flies a German flag on his front porch lodges a complaint that one of his neighbors, a black man, has an illegal structure hanging on his front porch – to wit: a sign with the guy’s name and address. Granted, it’s a large sign, carved and painted and containing the man’s long Nigerian chieftain name; a name that can only be drastically shortened to “baba” from it’s long-winded original, unless you’ve had extensive training in how to say it, but a sign’s a sign and a man’s front door is surely his own space.

Alas, no. while it’s clear that the bigoted complainant is only trying to start trouble for his racially-different neighbor, the local authorities take the complaint seriously and drag Baba through the court system, forcing him to prove that he’s right i the eyes of the media, the people and the law. Once more, it seems that the people in charge are eager to move the black man on, while even a white supremacist is considered preferable.

So does that mean the black man is being picked on? Perhaps not as much as it might seem. Creating a perfect circle in this exploration of hypocrisy and blame, the black neighbors are also shown behind the scenes, talking of “them gays” and how such people are “morally wrong” and how all the problems only started when they showed up. Meanwhile, when some of them are asked to make reasonable changes to their homes, such as to sell their rusting cars if they can’t afford to get them off blocks, or make the crumbling facades of a home safe for inhabitation, they fail to do so, or even consider such an option.

So what’s the lesson of all this? Basically that we’re all bigots when it suits us, pretty much, and that the people that run our cities care more about the money than they do about the community. And that Linda Goode Bryant and Laura Poitras are documentary filmmakers without peer.

Put simply, this is a documentary that you really should see; it might make you look at your own attitudes to your neighbors just a little differently.

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