The Throwaways. Directed by Bhawin Suchak and Ira McKinley. New York: Third World Newsreel, 2014. 62 minutes.
Out in the Night. Directed by blair dorosh-walther. Brooklyn: POV, 2015. 75 minutes.
My Stolen Revolution. Directed by Nahid Persson Sarvestani. New York: Women Make Movies, 2013. 75 minutes.
Although addressing different geographical regions and populations, the three films reviewed here all explore the ways in which legal systems enact violence while carrying out their visions of justice. The Throwaways and Out in the Night both focus on marginalized groups that are further disenfranchised by the New York state criminal justice system. My Stolen Revolution provides a look into Iran, showcasing atrocities endured during the Iranian Revolution and how these human rights abuses continue to reverberate. These films demonstrate the repercussions of injustices perpetrated through officially sanctioned legal procedures, offering insight into the reproduction of social norms and hierarchies of power.
The Throwaways was filmed in Albany, NY, by Ira Mckinley, an individual who had spent time incarcerated in a Staten Island facility. He begins by focusing on reentry issues for African American males and evolves throughout the hour-long film to focus on a system which he remarks “expects you to fail.” To make this point, he captures painful scenes of reality, such as the killing of a young man by police on the streets of New York, the devastation of those left behind when a loved one is incarcerated, and a meeting held with community members and a police chief—which quickly spirals out of control. Such moments adequately capture the feeling of desperation of the African American community and showcase the need for unparalleled perseverance and ingenuity by those who are what McKinley calls “marked” by a criminal record.
Throughout the film, viewers learn more about McKinley and his background, such as the loss of his father to a police shooting and how that has impacted his life trajectory. Some notably important additions to the film are his interviews with Michelle Alexander, author of The New Jim Crow, and esteemed African American scholar and social activist, Cornel West.1 These appearances are integrated with moments of community building (such as McKinley dressing as Santa Claus and giving presents to children), interviews with others that know him, and discussions of the importance of his social and political activism to their streets.
The Throwaways is a valuable film for teachers to use within the classroom. Viewers would benefit from this film being shown in social work, sociology, criminology, criminal justice, political science, and corrections courses. The film can provide companion material to books such as Elijah Anderson’s Code of the Streets or Alice Goffman’s On the Run.2 The film’s primary focus is on social justice issues, but it includes components of gentrification, poverty, social stratification, police and race relations, reentry and reintegration of formerly incarcerated people back into the community, social control, criminological theory, and community development. Therefore, faculty showing the film in class could encourage students to question the current social and economic stratification and ask students to form and respond to questions about the current criminal justice system, reform, and community development.
Out in the Night also explores the devastating impact of incarceration in the United States, highlighting some of the factors that shape how women experience the judicial system. Filmed in New York, it provides a glimpse of what life is like “on the streets” for homosexual African American women. In particular, it spotlights attitudes that remain prevalent in general society and the media. This film exquisitely blends the intersectionality of race, gender, and sexuality through the examination of a case in which seven African American women fought with and stabbed a male that they claim approached them aggressively and physically threatened them. The film presents media reports about the situation that offered headlines such as “Lesbian Wolf Pack Guilty” and “Lesbian Gang Attacks and Stabs Man in New York City.” The seven women were charged with multiple offenses, ranging from misdemeanors to first degree gang assault. Faced with sentences of twenty-five years each, three plead guilty and received six-month sentences for the charge of attempted assault; four were given sentences that ranged from three and one-half years to eight years. 3
Throughout the film, teachers that focus on women offenders, lifestyle theory, gender, and race/ethnicity relations will find qualitative evidence for what is well known about women who are arrested, convicted and incarcerated. The women featured here had histories of rape sexual abuse, and other traumas, self-harm and mutilation, co-occurring disorders, loss of custody of children, and prior experiences in the penal system. We additionally see how the norms and regulations in prison impose further violence. For example, one of the females discussed how uncomfortable she was because she was not allowed to wear boxers or shorts and instead was forced to wear traditional, feminine undergarments.
Out in the Nigh would best serve students studying topics like women and gender studies, race and ethnic relations, social problems and deviance and would fit well in courses in social organization, social psychology, and social relations or theory. Faculty showing the film in class could engage students in numerous discussions about social perceptions and stereotypes, intersectionality, risk predictors for and the criminal justice system’s response to female offenders, and the importance of social context. The film can provide companion material for books such as Hillary Potter’s Battle Cries: Black Women and Intimate Partners or Leon Pettiway’s Honey, Honey, Miss Thang: Being Black, Gay, and on the Streets.4
My Stolen Revolution is a documentary that links the personal journey of the director, Nahid Persson Sarvestani with the violence and incarceration imposed by a ruling government. Sarvestani fled Iran over thirty years ago and lost touch with friends and those she fought with during the shah revolution, including a leader of the revolution who taught her how to make clothes, hold secret meetings, and navigate politics and with whom she reconnects in the film. The documentary shares stories of mass executions, torture of Iranian political prisoners and the lives of the women that survived incarceration in the Iranian prisons. For example, Sarvestani met with five women that successfully fled Iran, and the stories told by each woman shine a light on the human atrocities that they endured, including rape, torture, and the stench of infection throughout the prisons. The women discussed their personal triumphs and the coping mechanisms they learned to use while imprisoned, such as artistry, painting, and stone carving.
Throughout the film, Sarvestani’s story is central, but she also features her brother, a young man who was violently executed as a political prisoner. Sarvestani deals with guilt and remorse as her actions introduced her brother to the revolution. In doing so, she finds the individual who shared a prison cell with her brother and meets with him to learn what her brother’s experience and last days were like. As a testament to the power still held by the government, this individual chose to remain hidden from the camera as he told Sarvestani of the boyish cheerfulness that her brother showed, even as the guards came to walk him to his execution.
The documentary is a valuable contribution to political science, sociology, and courses focused on social justice, comparative politics, human and civil rights violations, or social justice and equality. It could also be utilized as a film for comparative corrections, women’s and gender studies, or feminist studies. Students who watch the film will gain detailed knowledge of tragedy and loss, international political context, and knowledge of human rights violations that occur throughout the world. Most importantly, they will be able to view first-hand stories by women who have survived mass atrocity and lived to speak about it. This film can provide companion material for books such as Marina Nemat’s Prisoner of Tehran or Maryam Rostampour and Marziyeh Amirizadeh’s Captive in Iran.5
1 Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness (New York: New Press, 2010).
2 Elijah Anderson’s Code of the Streets: Decency, Violence, and the Moral Life of the Inner City (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1999); and Alice Goffman, On the Run: Fugitive Life in an American City (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2014).
3 These sentences reflect the judge’s initial ruling. Some women have since appealed their indictment, so currently the sentences range from four to eight years.
4 Hillary Potter, Battle Cries: Black Women and Intimate Partner Abuse (New York: NYU Press, 2009); and Leon Pettiway, Honey, Honey, Miss Thang: Being Black, Gay, and on the Streets (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1996).
5 Marina Nemat, Prisoner of Tehran: A Memoir (New York: Free Press, 2007); Maryam Rostampour and Marziyeh Amirizadeh, Captive in Iran: A Remarkable True Story of Hope and Triumph and the Horror of Tehran’s Brutal Evin Prison (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2014).