In 2017 I had the pleasure of meeting filmmaker Travis Pearson. His film “America Street” about two brothers Sota and Buck and the trauma experienced by formerly incarcerated Black Men who attempt to re-enter mainstream society haunted me and moved me in a way few modern movies do. Below is the original essay/review I wrote for the film’s DVD/Blu Ray release.
Diffused and muted on a wet Charleston day. That’s the abiding and earthy feeling of what Travis Pearson’s America Street most imbues in me when I think about it. That and the bittersweet horror of trying to “get back” home when home has become an abstract and ephemeral place, literally and metaphorically…
From the poor Southern vernacular and slang of Sota to the salt-of-the earth homilies of the Mother to the need for work and ‘the waltzing matilda’ having lunch under “America Street” sign to a random lesson on the 1739 Stoner Rebellion and the imagining of Harriet Tubman as an American Joan of Arc to the conception of Daddy Bucks — too poor to afford a ‘war’, although he’s a soldier nonetheless (if Chaplin’s Tramp and waif were a black and humorless 37-year old ex-con he’d be Bucks) Pearson’s beautiful neo-realist approach contains a rawness and honesty seldom seen in American pictures where exploitation is not the aim. Especially in films concerning black Americans and Southern or rural culture.
The film is not a tourist film for white audiences nor does it pander to its black audiences and that is why it succeeds as an honest portrait of the underdog, the maligned, and the heartbroken. It eschews all bourgeois patronizing of the working class and ex-convicts who try re-enter society (all too common in cinema) and the judicial problems of the black underclass because its director identifies with his characters. Pearson is an artist whose vision is genuine and unflinching as he makes you deal with cold hard realities. Even homosexuality is relayed in a way a far more courageous (and less stereotypical) than mainstream fare like Moonlight.
Like a shattered stained glass window, America Street is a mirror of a fractured society – one that wants to be whole but doesn’t have the resources to put itself back together again. A gritty, well-made drama with honest performances that seeks to celebrate and indict aspects of not only Charleston life but American society – America Street is replete with its hypocrisies, injustices, and confusion. When Bucks vocalizes it is like a yelp from the back of his throat that explodes. And that’s exactly what the film does: it’s explodes and does more than “pack a punch.” It makes you find both your heart and your mind. It entertains as well as enlightens. And that is all we can ask our artists who try to go into the places we choose to ignore.
— Dennis Leroy Kangalee
NYC April 28, 2018