Filmed in 2010 as The Two Plates and re-released at Redboxes this week under the stronger and more attention-grabbing title Blood Red Presidents, this ghetto epic from writer-director Jonathan Straiton is well worth checking out. Nasty, raw, and uncompromising, Blood Red Presidents dispenses with the Hollywood kid gloves in the depiction of blacks and emphasizes instead the grittily real. So firm is this film’s commitment to presenting the truth, no matter how unflattering to the society it depicts, that much of it feels almost as if actual camera phone footage straight out of the ‘hood had been edited together and uploaded onto YouTube as a movie, with most of the actors mumbling and slurring their lines instead of hamming it up and projecting; but there is much audiovisual style displayed here along with the handheld and seemingly primitive, with several memorably composed frames and such tactics as split screen employed more than once and used especially effectively in a doom-laden money-counting montage and musical interlude. Hip-hop is very much a part of this film’s personality and does much to enhance its power.
The violent story has two small-time hustlers, Deshaun (Assault) and Buck (Ambush), making a play for the big-time money as counterfeiters after they steal two plates that once belonged to a Peruvian drug lord. Unfortunately for them, their scheme attracts the attention of Secret Service agent Caddell (John Patton), who, along with Richmond cops Beck (Chris Morrison) and Burnett (Wes Reid), is determined to bring Deshaun and Buck’s successful run to an end. Before the tragic but blackly humorous story has run its seedy course, many will die, families will suffer, and friends will turn against each other. Blood Red Presidents, then, lives up to its title as yet another cautionary tale about how money, the titular “presidents”, is supposedly “the root to all evil.” Buck and Deshaun are no pitiable victims of any white Man’s “system”, however; these are crude, coldblooded brutes, self-described “niggers killin’ niggers” who deserve everything they get and more.
4 out of 5 stars. Recommended.
Ideological Content Analysis indicates that Blood Red Presidents is:
6. Christian. “Yeah, I’m sure, man. Is Jesus black?” Director Jonathan Straiton thanks God in the credits for His “guidance”.
5. Pro-family. Straiton dedicates the film to his father. Executive producer John M. Clark, meanwhile, thanks “Gene my adopted son who I appreciate very much for helping my retarded son.”
4. Sexist and slut-ambivalent. A rap that plays over the opening credits warns of crooked lawyers and “bitches with game”. “Get the fuck off the bed,” Deshaun tells his “shorty” in one early scene. “You need to take that shit to the clinic,” one young wastrel says to her. Leaning in the pro-slut direction, however, the executive producer gives a “special thanks” to “the designer of crotchless panties and peach flavored douche.”
3. Drug-ambivalent. In the opening scene, an old-fashioned white father, no doubt intended to be laughable, is shocked that his son would use marijuana. Thugs smoke joints and blunts and drink alcohol throughout the film, but “seein’ ya mama on that glass pipe is a painful sight.” In the end credits, executive producer John M. Clark thanks “the French wheat growers for doing their part to distill Grey Goose Vodka without which I couldn’t get through a day,” while producer Mean Gene thanks Bud Light “for always being there for me in time of need.” The director, Jonathan Straiton, says, “To anyone I forgot I apologize but it’s late and I’m drunk.”
2. Police-ambivalent/anti-state. Blood Red Presidents presents a sympathetic portrait of rookie cop Burnett and his chief. “You know how the media is,” Burnett complains to his chief after being accused of police brutality. “I mean, where were they last week when I was changing that old lady’s tire?” Surprisingly, Burnett is the only character in the film who shows any remorse after committing a murder, and he even risks blowing a major investigation to try to save a criminal informant’s life. His colleague Beck is another matter. In a situation similar to that in The Place Beyond the Pines, this officer attempts to cover up for Burnett after his mistaken killing of an unarmed suspect. Meaningfully, the victim, an aspiring rapper, is found to have been holding a microphone rather than a gun. (Symbolically, this might be read as suggesting that the police state feels less threatened by black crime than by socially conscious black men’s freedom of expression.) One of the extras in the police station has clearly been cast to capture the worthless, doughnut-scarfing blob archetype.
1. Diversity-skeptical/anti-wigger. A close-up of Virginia’s state flag, with its motto, “Sic semper tyrannis”, calls to mind Lincoln’s assassination and never-completed Reconstruction. “Freedom ain’t free,” one rap number suggests, and racial resentments going back to the days of slavery inform the typical thug mindset, with the ghosts of slaves, heard from the trees, encouraging young black men to “Squeeze that tech, nigga.” White police, consequently, are vulnerable both to violence and defamation in the media. In one scene, a black man punches a white stranger on sight. Buck and Deshaun’s wigger associates, “silly-ass white boy” Chuck (Ashby Brooks) and his brother, “ol’ crazy-ass white boy” Mike (Rob Rozier), turn out to be untrustworthy. Authorities, meanwhile, are frustrated by criminals’ use of unintelligible Ebonics.