Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Run Time: 1 hours, 48 minutes, Not Rated
Written & Directed by Eugene Jarecki (Reagan, Freakonomics, Why We Fight)
It’s rare that a documentary can feel personal while at the same time tackle widespread national issues, but that’s exactly what The House I Live Indoes. It’s a raw, non-partisan film that takes a long, hard look at the U.S. drug policy and how it has impacted our society over the past few centuries.
Writer/Director Eugene Jarecki begins profiling his childhood nanny, who just so happens to be named Nannie. She is an aging African-American woman and we first see the disbelief in her eyes as she stares at her TV, watching as Barack Obama is named the first Black President of the United States.
He then pulls the focus out of Nannie’s home and widens the scope. We meet a street-level drug dealer, narcotics officers, federal judges and prison inmates as they paint the picture of how drugs and drug policies influence and shape our communities. It is a broken system, that’s for sure, with failed leadership and ideas giving way to thinly-veiled attempts to wage a “war” on drugs in America.
The best insights come from David Simon (producer of HBO’s The Wire) who paints a stark picture of how our jails are filled with non-violent offenders, costing taxpayers billions of dollars throughout the years. But a historical expert gives us the most fascinating and shocking information of all: That all drug policies – from cocaine to opium to heroine to marijuana – began as attempts to incarcerate and suppress minorities and immigrants in our country.
Opium laws, for example, were created to stop the influx of Chinese. Cocaine, the surge in Mexicans coming in from the South.
How else can recent crack cocaine policies be explained? Crack cocaine we learn, is the same exact substance as the powder, except water and baking soda are added to harden it up. Crack – much more common in Black and minority-populated urban areas – is given almost 100 to 1 more severe punishment in the eyes of the law.
The House I Live In does a fantastic job of explaining itself, linking nearly all of our current drug laws to some sort of racially-motivated beginning. It ends by suggesting that in today’s world, it’s shifting not along lines of race but class, with drugs prevalent among the poor (such as crystal meth) now being targeted.
By design, Jarecki shows us how all of this impacted those he cared about the most, living under his own roof, as well as how this problem affects every one of us. The House I Live In points out terrible inhumanities that – for centuries – nobody has wanted to acknowledge. It’s the most intellectual, well thought-out pro-legalization-of-drugs documentary of all time. It calls for drug equality and with it, human equality.
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