American Violet tells the story of one mother’s quest to do the right thing
The drama American Violet is based on the real-life story of Regina Kelly, a young mother wrongly arrested during a drug raid who fights to clear her name and changes the justice system in the process. The independent film, screened last month at Patois: The Sixth Annual New Orleans International Human Rights Film Festival, was shot locally and stars Alfre Woodard, Charles Dutton and newcomer Nicole Beharie as the film’s heroine. Director Tim Disney (great-nephew of Walt) shared a few thoughts about the film with New Orleans Living.
First I have to ask, what was it like growing up Disney?
My father [Roy E. Disney] used to make TV shows for The Wonderful World of Color, eventually called The Wonderful World of Disney. It’s a legacy I feel proud of. It’s something that stands for imagination and creativity and quality.
What was your inspiration for making American Violet?
I heard the story originally from my partner Bill Haney, also the writer of the movie, who heard a news story about it on NPR. For me the primary inspiration is [that] it’s a personal story of this woman, a powerless person in many ways, a 23-year-old black single mother of four living in a rural Texas town. That’s about as far from the levers of power as you can get in our society. And yet she makes a decision based on principal and that leads to real change taking place.
What makes this story worth telling?
There’s a great measure of dignity about [Kelly]. She’s not self-aggrandizing; she’s not a martyr. Her answer when people ask her why she did this [is] that she didn’t want to be a bad example for her children. She wanted to live by example for them. I just love the clarity of that.
What was behind the decision to film here instead of in Texas?
We filmed in Louisiana because the state offers some very attractive incentives for production. We did the bulk of filming on location on the Westbank, Marrero, Westwego and other places. Plus, New Orleans has a really good population of skilled craftsmen and crew members. And lastly, it’s just a great place. My mother’s whole family is from New Orleans, so I have a personal connection with it.
What was the significance of weaving footage from the 2000 presidential election throughout the film?
When I describe the event to people without reference to time, they assume it’s a story from the 1920s or ’30s and are shocked to find out it’s a contemporary story. The primary purpose was to set it in time, but also a specific context. It’s ironic that she’s being pressured to plead guilty to a crime she didn’t commit, while a guy is in the Supreme Court being given an election he didn’t win. [It’s a reference to the] differential access to—and I put it in quotation marks—“justice” based on class, economics and race. And that’s really the number one issue here.
What do you hope viewers will take away with them after seeing the movie?
The understanding that change is possible and that it begins with our own individual decisions; that we can’t sit around waiting to be saved by someone else.
Beyond that, there are all kinds of specific policy issues raised by the movie that are very important and pressing. The so-called War on Drugs is an obvious and utter catastrophe.
What we’re doing now just locking people up is not working and is damaging to so many people’s lives. Plus, we’re flushing hundreds of billions of dollars down the drain. I think we have to change our thinking about it from a military paradigm to a public health paradigm. It’s a public health issue.
To view the trailer and learn more about the film, visit www.americanviolet.com.