- Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
- Video Codec: AVC/MPEG-4
- Resolution: 1080p/24
- Audio Codec: English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
- Subtitles: English SDH; Spanish
- Region: A
- Rating: PG-13
- Discs: 1
- Studio: Image Entertainment
- Blu-ray Disc Release Date: October 13, 2009
- List Price: $35.98
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Based on a true story, American Violet is the story of young, twenty-four-year-old black single mother of four, Dee (Nicole Beharie), in a poor Texas town wrongfully accused and jailed for dealing drugs. Rather than accept a plea bargain, which would get her out of jail, but also leave her a felon and without her public assistance, Dee chooses to fight her arrest and sue the district attorney with the help of local attorney Sam Conroy (Will Patton) and the ACLU for racist practices in his drug raids on black communities and the Texas law allowing Grand Jury indictments on the word of a sole informant.
Alfre Woodard plays Dee’s mother, Alma, and rapper Xzibit is cast as the deadbeat dad of two of Dee’s kids. The film has its heart in the right place in pointing out the not-so-concealed institutional racism of a not-so-long-ago Texas. The film is set to the backdrop of the 2000 presidential elections and clips of George W. Bush and Al Gore on television frequently populate the screen, but they are gratuitous at best, for they have no baring on the story or Dee’s situation.
The problem with films that tackle subjects like racism is they can either be too shallow, too preachy, or too judgmental. American Violet falls on the shallow side. The story is hardly given time to develop. We are not given any real understanding of the socio-political structures at work or the centuries of racism, classism, and divisions entrenched in our society. There is hardly room for any shades of grey in American Violet. What we are handed in American Violet from the beginning is a tidy story with the good guys and bad guys neatly lined up on side or the other.
It at times feels more like an after school special about racism and prejudice than a real-life story about struggle. Its brevity is perhaps misused, although well intentioned, but the end result is something not as powerful as it is meant to be. Yes, I think we all know that racism does still exist even in today’s United States, but films like American Violet that quickly pass over the subject do not add much to the national dialogue.
All is not lost, however, in American Violet. Nicole Beharie’s performance shows great promise for this young performer. She holds her own against the veteran Alfre Woodard whose performance seems stuck in one gear here.
American Violet’s vaguely peach-hued color palette looks well enough in this 2.35:1 1080p/24 AVC/MPEG-4 encoding from Image Entertainment. The source is clean, shadow delineation is strong, and there is an ever so slight layer of film grain apparent. Nothing quite pops from the screen, and there is some softness on occasion in background detail, but overall it looks stable and solid.
American Violet has been given an English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix as its sole audio option. As far as mixes go for films of this nature it is pretty solid. The dialogue-driven mix comes with clean dialogue, and the surrounds are occasionally engaged with some low-level sound effects and ambience that allow for an opening up of the soundstage. Particularly active moments come early in the film during the police raid on the housing project and moments in jail when there are clear discrete sounds panned throughout the soundstage. Otherwise, it is a relatively still mix, but it works well enough for the material at hand.
American Violet’s supplements are sparse. All that has been supplied for this release are the obligatory director’s audio commentary, a Q&A panel from the Telluride Film Festival and a trailer. Neither supplement is fully compelling, but the Q&A does offer the opportunity to catch a glimpse of the real-life figure the film’s heroine was based on.The
The Definitive Word
American Violet touches on a sensitive and powerful subject that is an ongoing one in US history. It has moments where it shines, but in comparison to other films that deal with racism, it is only average. It is a story that should be told, but it could have been elevated to a level a bit higher than this given slightly more competent hands. The drama never soars in American Violet, it remains lukewarm and that keeps American Violet from being one of the stronger dramas to touch on this hot button issue.