Disclaimer: The following post is not in the scope of this blog, but I had a a strong reaction to this documentary and have thoughts about it. Besides that, its been an obscenely long time since I have posted anything here.
I am admittedly not a film expert, have never made a documentary, and probably never will, but I do watch a many of them and believe that I am a fairly decent judge of their quality.
That being said, I truly hated 2008's The Order of Myths, and I apologize in advance.
The film, directed by Margaret Brown, is about Mardi Gras in Mobile, AL, which which has a long history, dating back to the 1700s. While it does begin as a history of the season, it devolves into a statement about racism, classicism, and slavery. While all of that is certainly worth analyzing, I got the sense that she likely deceived many of her interview subjects, as to the purpose of this film.
While it seems to be a current practice for some documentarians (Michael Moore, Morgan Spurlock, etc.) to deceptively edit interviews, in order to put the subjects in a bad light, they at least seem to have been upfront about the intent of the film.
Considering that some of the cringeworthy things that a few of the white subjects say, they had likely been led to believe that Brown, a Mobile native, was acting in good faith. I seriously doubt that she forewarned them, some being family members and people she had grown up with, that she was going to make them look like racists.
Maybe they are racist or just isolated or insensitive, I don't know. On the other hand, she may have selectively edited out qualifying statements or their comments about lower class whites, which I would guess were probably made. Again, I don't know, but many appear to be aristocratic and any of those could possibly be the case.
The thesis of the documentary was that the major organizations are racist, because they are segregated. I believe that is probably a fair criticism, particularly with the main Mardi Gras organization, the Mobile Carnival Association, which is made up of the aforementioned aristocrats.
To illustrate that point, she tells the story of the Clotilda (more about that later) since she was contrasting MCA with the Mobile Area Mardi Gras Association (MAMGA), which is the alternative organization whose members are descendants of the slaves who were carried over on that ship, while the Queen of the MCA in the year that she was filming was a descendant of the scumbag who chartered the ship.
For background, US participation in the slave trade was banned by Congress in 1807, but continued illegally through the 1850s, and the Clotilda was the last one known slave ship to arrive on our shores, in 1860.
The story goes that Timothy Meaher, a shipbuilder, on a bet, chartered the it to carry 124 slaves from Africa to Mobile. When the ship arrived, he told the captain that he was going to collect on his bet and to scuttle the ship if he wasn’t back before a certain time. He didn’t make it back in time and the ship was scuttled, killing some of the slaves, while the rest escaped and settled in Plateau, which later became known as Africatown.
Anyway, back to the main story. She used the MCA Queen’s ancestry as a vehicle for reinforcing her message. The poor girl had nothing to do with the events of over 150 years earlier. Sins of the father being projected onto descendants always nauseates me, even considering my dislike for aristocracy.
On top of that, Brown is Old Mobile, and her grandmother was an MCA Queen back in the 1930s. She used her background for getting access to the inner workings of the organizations, and, again, apparently didn’t disclose the purpose of her film.
She interviewed two of her grandparents and I believe that it put them in a very poor light, because of some of the stories that they told and and comments that were made. I sensed a violation of trust, because I doubt that she told them that she was going to make them look like unreformed racists.
She also interviewed members of some members of newer organizations, who are not part of the aristocracy. Granted, I was really taken aback by some of the things that one of them, who was wisely in costume, said, that even the most objective person could probably view as being racist.
I will give Brown some credit in that she at least admits in her frequent self-inserts that she’s making the film because of her politics and the guilt that she feels about being part of the aristocracy.
To be clear, I don’t really care about how she made the MCA look, because I’ve never liked it, I guess because of my blue collar background, and have always thought a Mardi Grass Court was boring and stupid.
My problem with the film is that I sense that she made the film in an underhanded way. It bears repeating that I seriously doubt that she was upfront with the MCA participants, because it’s hard for me to believe that they would have otherwise said the things that they did or let her film. However, it does appear that the MAMGA participants had been aware of her intentions.
I understand that the focus of a documentary may change as it is being made, but, it seems to me, the directors tend to clearly state whether that was the case. The statements that Brown makes throughout the film indicate that was not the case here, and, I believe, that she was acting in bad faith. Maybe I’m wrong, but that’s the impression that I got.
On the other hand, the parts about MAMGA were quite excellent and interesting. Brown later followed up that part with a film about the Clotilda and the residents of Africatown, in 2022's Descendant.
That being said, it is a competently made film, but I don’t believe that it was made in an ethical manner, but what do I know?
The Order of Myths is available on Netflix, Kanopy, and Mubi, and I give it 2 out of 5 Sugar Beads.