Review of Shenandoah directed by David Turnley
This is one documentary that should go on everyone’s must watch list. Released in 2012, the themes of race, immigration, poverty, and injustice resonate in today’s political climate. I grew up in a small town in Pennsylvania very much like the one highlighted in this film. I don’t remember there being anyone of color or of an ethnic background other than white in my high school. Like in this film, football played a huge role at our high school. But this is no Friday Night Lights.
Shenandoah tells the story of four football players accused of murdering a Mexican immigrant named Luis Ramirez. Was it a hate crime? Was it just a fight that got out of control? What will happen to the four players involved? These central questions are answered, but the resolution is not quite what you may expect.
My experience of small town America was just like how John Mellencamp described it–small towns “provide little opportunity.” I left at age eighteen and never returned. I have nothing against small towns and the people who live there. But this film highlights the bleak side of small town USA. There’s a reason why manufacturing jobs have left the US for Mexico and other places. It has to do with wage expectations and the price consumers are willing to pay for products. When you hear certain politicians talking about the death of coal mining communities and how they are going to bring jobs back, that’s nonsense. There’s a reason why you don’t see horse & carriage repair shops. They were replaced by newer technology. Any politician who promises to keep jobs in declining industries is blowing smoke.
This film is not as slickly produced as a 48 Hours or Dateline episode. But don’t let that deter you from watching the story that unfolds. As you watch how the town and local police respond to what happened to Mr. Ramirez, imagine how things might have played out if it were Luis and three of his friends who beat to death a white football player.
I watched the film on Netflix.