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33 of 33 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Profiling the Drug Wars, April 28, 2009
Wouldn't it be terrible to find yourself jailed for something you did not do, based solely on the word of a lying, mentally ill drug addict? That's what happened to Regina Kelly in Hearne, Texas back in 2000. Ensnared in a mass arrest of suspected drug dealers at her housing project, the young single mother was charged with selling drugs in a school zone. Despite her insistence that she was innocent, her court-appointed attorney pressured her to accept a plea bargain to avoid many years in prison and the loss of her children. With no criminal record and no drugs found on or near her, she refused the deal. Instead, with the help of the American Civil Liberties Union she filed a class action lawsuit.

Although Kelly's case was reported in a documentary by PBS' cutting-edge Frontline back in 2004, American Violet brings a fictionalized version to a broader, mass audience. Co-director Bill Haney (along with Tim Disney) says he heard about Kelly's case on National Public Radio as he was driving; it so moved him that he pulled his car over to the side of the road and cried.

In this film, "Dee Roberts" (a magnificent Nicole Beharie) is the plaintiff in a class-action case over racial discrimination in drug enforcement. Tim Blake Nelson plays David Cohen, the ACLU lawyer who sues district attorney Calvin Beckett (Michael O'Keefe) on her behalf.

Kelly is quoted in the Chicago Tribune as saying the film is "90 percent accurate." The depositions, the courtroom scene in which she fights to retain custody of her children, and many other scenes are word-for-word accounts.

Like Clint Eastwood's Changeling, this tale of a defiant woman's struggle against corrupt law enforcement strikes a universal chord. But American Violet also addresses present-day criminal justice themes of racial profiling, coerced plea bargaining, and - most of all - wrongful convictions based on false statements by jailhouse informants.

I highly recommend this powerful movie.

For those interested in more information on the actual case, the Web has various resources. The class-action case, Regina Kelly v. John Paschall, is discussed at the ACLU's website. Kelly has her own web site and a YouTube video; just Google her name to get to those. I have also posted more information and links at 1url(dot)com/AmericanViolet.
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Location: El Cerrito, CA, USA

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