WANT TO SEE THIS FILM? Independent Lens is broadcasting Rat Film nationally on Monday, February 26, 2018. Times and dates may vary by region. For more information, check out the PBS website for this documentary. Or, go directly to the filmmaker’s website.
Review by DAVID CRUMM
Sometimes we need to be blasted out of our complacency about racism—and that’s precisely what provocative documentary filmmaker Theo Anthony intends in Rat Film.
If you hate rodents, you’re in for a shock. This film opens with a startling look at the lives of the rats that infest some neighborhoods in Baltimore. Did you know that an adult Norway rat can jump 32 inches high? Well, you’ll see that—as a rat in a trash can seems to jump right at us through Anthony’s camera. No question, the folks behind this movie want to poke and prod us to consider our attitudes about …
Well, what exactly is the subject of this film? That’s the haunting question in the opening minutes of this movie. We begin to sense where the filmmaker eventually will take us when one of the City of Baltimore’s wise old rat killers tells us: “There ain’t never been a rat problem in Baltimore. There’s been a people problem. And it ain’t going to change—until the people change their behavior.”
Flash forward through many scenes from Baltimore’s decades-long war with its rats. Finally, Anthony hits us like a baseball bat to the forehead with his basic argument: Baltimore’s most powerful families have been trying to force black residents into impoverished neighborhoods for more than a century. Throughout that time, those power brokers cared more about rats than the living conditions for segregated black families.
There’s a heavy dose of sarcasm running through the entire film. For example, many decades ago a prophetic public health expert argued that the best way to rid Baltimore of its rats was to improve sanitation, water and other basic living conditions in the city’s slums. Instead of supporting his idea, this scholar’s message was met with scorn and rejection. Who in their right mind would spend public dollars to help improve public services to the families living in those neighborhoods?
Make you mad? That’s Anthony’s point.
If you’re so fed up with complacency about racism that you want to shake up attitudes and provoke discussion, then urge friends and colleagues to watch Rat Film and talk about it afterward.
You’ll have no shortage of things to say about this movie!
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