Runaway Slave is a movie in search of a target demographic to convince of its rightness. It positions itself as a travelogue of sorts revolving around the journey of C.L. Bryant, a Baptist minister and former President of the NAACP chapter in Garland, Texas. He began to drift from his “progressive liberal” stance when it began to conflict with his faith, starting with the abortion issue, and ends up a member of the Tea Party.
What could have been an interesting discussion of that journey instead becomes the worst kind of propaganda film. Written and directed by Pritchett Cotton (the irony of this last name goes without comment), Runaway Slave was produced in partnership with the FreedomWorks Foundation, with the agenda of freeing the black community from the economic slavery of the government. The entitlement mindset of the “progressive” black community is the equivalent of trading one form of tyranny for another, so Bryant and the film strives to create a postmodern “Underground Railroad” to help black people escape from the plantation of government entitlements.
Bryant points out that the Black community has 40% of its population on welfare, 72% of its children born out of wedlock and a 48% abortion rate, and asks “Is this what the black community has to show for its 95% support of the Democratic Party?” Along the course of his journey, he interviews several prominent conservatives in the black conservative movement. Leaders like Rev. Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton are described in interviews as “poverty pimps” because they profit while claiming to represent the best interests of black America.
This is where the provocative discussion breaks down, because the solution becomes “join the Republican Party.”
“Why do we continue to deal with the past instead of looking toward our future?” –C.L. Bryant
Runaway Slave takes great pains to go over some of the history of the civil rights movement and the Democratic and Republican Parties that is not generally known, such as it was Republican President Eisenhower who desegregated the American military and introduced the first civil rights act since reconstruction – The Civil Rights Act of 1957. But then there is a lot of arguing about labels and titles that becomes the underpinning of the remaining discussion.
For all of the Republicans/Tea Party’s defensiveness about being labeled, they are quick to label others, as socialist or Marxist. They also conveniently do not address the racist rhetoric among the Tea Party or acknowledge how must the “Southern Strategy” of the Republicans or the inflammatory rhetoric of the Tea Party has cost them. Instead, black conservatives are reduced to distinguish themselves as Frederick Douglass Republicans (the Black equivalent of the Log Cabin Republicans). In short, black people are encouraged to escape the plantations by running to a party where they aren’t wanted.
One only has to go to any barber shop or any place where there’s “real talk” to realize that black people aren’t a monolithic political group. Economic policy, abortion, gun control, all issues get vigorously debated. And the fact of the matter is that a socially conservative platform could find a home within the black community, and that message resonate loudly. Unfortunately, Runaway Slave, as with many agenda “documentaries” spends too much time asking the wrong questions.
Runaway Slave fails to give any real scope or context to the black conservative movement. Once we’re introduced to all of their buzzwords (“the new plantation”) all the viewer is left with is more of the “by your bootstraps”/“think for yourselves” (read: become a Republican) dogma. Nor does the film go down easy. It’s dull and humorless (squandering a sequence where Rev. Al “I never saw a mic I didn’t speak into” Sharpton refuses to talk to them), repeating its central message over and over rather than advancing its thought. Uninteresting and not especially compelling, despite the provocative nature of its premise, the movie comes off as a stiff lecture from people who believe they’re smarter than you.