'The Jim Crow Holocaust'
- Directed by Jacob Hayek -
Jacob Hayek’s ‘The Jim Crow Holocaust’ treats a sensitive subject, yet one of high actuality in today’s society, especially after a number of unfortunate events which occurred in 2016 triggered a rise in nationalism and social movements which consequently influenced the outcome of important elections across the world. If slightly exaggerated, the film fits well within the context of Donald Trump’s presidential victory, and imagines a near future where discriminatory laws reminiscent to the Jim Crow legislation which dominated an important part of USA’s history, albeit this time applied not to a race but a religion: Islam.
In a near-future, further attacks or conflict makes president Donald Trump enact a law by which Muslims are required to at all times wear distinctive symbols when in public. Jadz, a young Syrian refugee whose family had escaped the conflict back home and fled to the US in order to establish a decent life for themselves, starts off at his new school, and wants nothing more than to make friends and blend in. Unfortunately, this doesn’t exactly go to plan, as his Keffiyeh and armband attract attention, thus sparking racist reactions from all but one of his fellow students on the bus to school. Nadine, a Jewish girl, feels sorry for his treatment and is conflicted on whether or not to reach out to him, thus endangering most of her friendships.
The story unfolds very fluently, and makes its point at all times. It is interesting how most of the characters have to make difficult decisions: the bus driver for siding against the crowd, Jadz for dispensing of his Keffiyeh, his father for punishing him as a result, Nadine for her intended plan of action and her mother for giving her advice that might ultimately endanger her social status, despite being morally right. The complex and multifaceted nature of these actions are well-captured and showcase the intricacy of the subject.
Also admirable is how it doesn’t take a black or white approach, and tries to justify diverse standpoints, either directly or indirectly. Thus, the boy who lectures Jadz on the bus and acts violently towards him might not be a bad person, but the loss of his brother would have likely deeply affected him, making him more predisposed to the influence of racism and nationalism. Similarly, the Syrian boy’s father is probably not a bad man, and simply acts aggressively towards his son, showing little kindness and understanding, because of the escalating situation against his kind – the segregation and marginalization prompts him to be on the defensive about his culture and religion.
Unfortunately, while these elements establish a well-functioning framework for the film, finer details detract significantly from its overall quality. The acting is rather poor and unconvincing, especially from Nadine’s mother and the girl who sits next to her on the bus during the first day of school. Not even Jadz feels believable enough, and this is a problem. This is perhaps partly because of the dialogues: most conversations on the subject are in the form of long monologues which justify worldviews – the boy on the bus, the father, Nadine and her mother. These feel very unnatural and scripted, most of them rather resembling a synthesis, a history or a political resume rather than real conversations. The boy on the bus immediately explains himself, which feels much too quick and direct, like trying to tick this element off a list, while Nadine’s closing remark feels more like a presidential campaign quote rather than what one would say to an 11-ish year old boy on a school bus ride. Minor problems also plague the sound localization, which sounds off at times.
Despite forcing its way through at times – which really shouldn’t be the case considering its decently long duration – and despite problems with the believability of such a quick indoctrination of the youth, ‘The Jim Crow Holocaust’ does a good job in exploring a sensitive topic by means of interesting comparisons and the successful application of a simple yet engrossing what-if scenario. The film is definitely a success, and an eye-opening warning sign for today’s society.