Our America (2002)

Genres - Drama  |   Sub-Genres - Coming-of-Age, Urban Drama  |   Release Date - Jan 13, 2002 (USA - Unknown)  |   Run Time - 105 min.  |   Countries - Canada , United States   |   MPAA Rating - R
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Early on, Our America seems headed toward depicting misery in the projects at arm's length -- possibly making it guilty of the same "ghetto tourism" NPR journalist David Isay (Josh Charles) gets accused of during the story. There's token grit and danger, but the viewer senses the filmmakers might softball it by characterizing the two leads as saints, rather than flawed byproducts of their environment. Then, LeAlan Jones and Lloyd Newman participate in a game of "knockout," dropping bricks onto passing minivans from above the highway, and the true uncompromising nature of Our America shines through. Former Spike Lee cinematographer Ernest R. Dickerson brings Lee's sense of purpose to his study of two inner-city youths chronicling their daily grind in Chicago's toughest housing project, which Isay brings to a wider audience through National Public Radio. The debate about Isay's role, and the extent to which it's self-serving, is fertile. That Our America premiered on Showtime may have kept the film itself from a wider audience, but it deserves to be discovered on DVD. Dickerson gets authentic performances from Brandon Hammond and Roderick Pannell in the central roles, and frames their characters' squalid lives honestly. But he's also got tricks up his sleeve as a former director of photography, switching film stock to black-and-white when LeAlan and Lloyd are recording. Their interviews with LeAlan's mentally ill mother and Lloyd's alcoholic father are particularly heartbreaking. The fact-based Our America contains some of the same drive-bys and drug deals as fictionalized ghetto stories, and in this sense, it threatens to disappear into their anonymous number. But its timing also seems to be a reminder that although new societal ills may take the headlines, the problems of inner-city blacks are no less profound than when Boyz 'N the Hood premiered a decade earlier.