Racism in the US: “BLOOD IN THE FACE” (1991)

“This is one of the most exciting nights of my life -> make no mistake about it, our people have played a HUGE role in electing Trump!” This exhilarated tweet was sent by former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke, who wrote it immediately after Trump’s victory. Whether “our people” means only Ku Klux Klan members or, in a more general sense, all the racist, xenophobic, sexist American people is not clear in the sweeping message. Whatever the case, it implies all the “white supremacists”, those who, for some reason, believe that the biological taxon usually called Caucasian has some sort of superiority -physical, intellectual, moral, cultural- over the other taxons. Blood in the Face, a 1991 documentary, shows a meeting of some of this sort of Americans who wanted to join and share their so-called ideas about “race”, supremacy, and the United States. It is a nasty, disgusting film to watch -because of its gruesome subject-matter and its participants-, but unfortunately a must-see due to these sad times of hate, violence, and liberated resentment. True, this film was made a quarter of a century ago, and thus it can’t claim to be a first notice. But racism doesn’t need to be updated. In its moral and intellectual poverty remains unchanged. The only change is that these insane misconceptions are ceasing to be fringe and becoming alarmingly close to those who are going to hold power in Washington.

Throughout the late eighties the three directors of this documentary made an extensive research on racist American groups, in order to find out both what they had in their heads and the scope of their influence. The main groups they found were the world-famous Ku Klux Klan and the not so well-known Aryan Nations and American Nazi Party. The three of them share the conviction that white people are superior to other ethnic groups, and that they are being attacked by the inferior “races”, who want to take hold of the world, and especially of America. That is why these committed fighters have assumed the task not only of defending the white, but also to counteract and punish black people (the “negro”), Latin American people, Asian people, Jewish people and, in general, all who can act as containers of their original hatred. The film shows as well members of other lesser, fringe groups, bearing such suggestive names as White Patriot Party from North Carolina and Christian Identity, but their ideologies are all the same and don’t deserve any special comment.

The film focusses on the “congress” members of these groups held in rural Michigan in 1986. What can do these people when they meet? Not surprisingly, deliver monotonous speeches on white supremacy, inferior and despised cultures, the need to protect the best ones from the treacherous attacks of the envious, crippled inferiors, the country against barbarians and the race against the polluting influence of degenerated gene pools, etc.

Four participants in the congress.

Needless to say, their claims are lacking in any scientific basis, and they indulge in all sorts of historical fallacies, like that of saying that white people are America’s original inhabitants (the continent was dwelt by American Natives for centuries), and that of negating the Holocaust. Between speeches, they show flags, swastikas, weapons, and clothes of sadistic appearance. At night, some of them put on their KKK attire, walk in single line wearing torches and admire a burning cross. All of which, of course, is pathetic and ridiculous, a clear symptom of deep, unsolved psychic problems requiring a Freudian treatment, but at the same time is a warning of what could happen if this sort of people were close to powerful positions. And now, in 2016, they are.

The directors allow them to speak out their minds, without interrupting them. Great film-maker Errol Morris holds the theory that if you allow people to speak freely in front of a camera for just two minutes without annoying them, you’ll be able to know their degree of madness. This film proves the theory. They are absolutely crazy, they are mad, insane. They are neurotic, paranoid. They try to  counterbalance inferiority complexes -probably of sexual nature and social exclusion, but who knows what else- with ideologies of violence and hate. So, everything quite sad and disgusting. But again, since they exist, one should be aware of their existence.

The film records well this regrettable existence, and in doing so does good to the well-being of society: it is necessary to be aware of the organism’s sicknesses. But it leaves the spectator without a background information of these groups: where they were born, where are they stronger, what connections have they got with political parties. That would be more useful than keep showing a string of talking heads telling the same nonsenses and showing the same sort of mental disorders. Some context through voice-over would have helped to understand the character and development of these sick organizations.

One of the criticisms this film has attracted is that it crosscuts excessively the participants’ interventions, an approach which turns their sayings into slogans or sound bites. But it is highly doubtful that they are able to pronounce an articulate reasoning beyond repeating the same racist clichés. It doesn’t seem they can develop any kind of sustained argument. Some critics said it feels like some of the dimest members were chosen to speak. Really?

Another criticism was that -due to the lack of developed speeches, whether because of the film-makers approach or of the poverty of the speakers’ thought- spectators can’t decide the degree of heterogeneousness among these hate groups. But one would say the only difference between the three main groups -KKK, nazis, and aryans- seems to be the targets of their ingrained resentment.

A young Michael Moore takes part in the film as interviewer. Here he tries to persuade a fanatic girl that she should do something better with her life.

Indeed, there is some historical context, displayed through a few archival clips showing  George Lincoln Rockwell, the killed founder of the American Nazi Party and some other spoke-person of white hate. But these clips don’t fit into a recognizable narrative, don’t provide a clear history of far-right, racist ideas in America.

George Lincoln Rockwell, founder of the American Nazi Party.

In the end, one is not sure about the point of the film. If it is to remind us that the radical right exists and is capable of everything as long as it is stupid and nasty and violent, it succeeds. If it is to show us the lack of intelligence, integrity and mental soundness of these people, it succeeds as well: we see this ethically and emotionally disabled people with mixed feelings of awe and contempt. If the idea was to give an overall image of the American far-right, it doesn’t succeed so much, because the idea remains quite fragmented, without a glue that sticks all the strange pieces together.

It is quite relevant as a view of American racism, which today is rampant. Unarmed black people were killed by police shots in Louisiana, Minnesota and many other places. The movement Black Lives Matter arose in 2013 to protest against the growing racism not only in the American police, but in society as a whole. It isn’t, by no means, an unjustified movement. The struggle for civil rights has become necessary again, and the odds are that the times are changing for the worse. Hate is on the rise. Today, the far right is called “alt right”(alternative right), but is the same heap of trash with a new bag. Steve Bannon, one of its spokespeople, will be the main strategist of the leading world power.


Directors: Anne Bohlen, Kevin Rafferty and James Ridgeway
Country: United States
Original language: English
Locations: Rural Michigan
Running length: 78 minutes
Full film: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gQtNtg1XeDs

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