May Positivity: Fenced Off (dir by Brad Wise)

2011’s Fenced Off tells the story of Josh (Joshua Zirger) and George (Reggie Willis).

Josh is a young white social worker who has just moved onto a street where all of his neighbors are black.  His mother worries that Josh and his wife, Anne, are going to become crime statistics.  All of Josh’s friends tend to say things like, “Isn’t that neighborhood a little urban for you?”  Josh’s dumbass brother thinks that it would be a good idea to show up at Josh’s house wearing a durag and pouring a bottle of wine out on the driveway.  Josh is a nice guy but he sure does know a lot of dumb people.

Meanwhile, George (Reggie Willis) has lived on the block for 17 years.  He’s not at all happy when Josh shows up and he goes out of his way to avoid talking to his new white neighbors.  George’s best friend suggests that George might be a “bigot” but George denies it.  He says that he has a lot of reasons to not want to talk to Josh.  The fact that Josh is a dorky white guy is just one of them.

One week, while his wife is out of town, Josh’s life falls apart.  He offends a group of teenagers when he assumes that they’re approaching him because they want to mug him.  (Instead, they just want to return the $4.00 that he dropped while running.)  He freaks out when he hears a gunshot in the distance and, when George makes a joke about gangs in the area, Josh briefly worries that George might be a gang member.  Josh finds a white package on his property and automatically assumes that some drug dealers dropped a package of cocaine on his front lawn.  George grabs the package and reveals that it just a bag of  diapers.

It’s certainly a well-intentioned film and Josh and George are both portrayed as being complex characters who are sometimes right and sometimes wrong.  There’s actually a rather insightful scene in which Josh attempts to soothe things over with George by talking about how his family struggled financially when he was a kid just for George to call him out for assuming that George must be from a poor background.  When Josh argues that his best childhood friend was black, George wonders why every white guy claims to have had a black best friend who moved away in the 8th grade.  George has a point with both comments.  “I didn’t grow up rich” and “my best friend was/is black” are two of the most regularly repeated claims in white America today.

But, that said, Fenced Off doesn’t really work. Due to a lot of unnecesssary padding, the otherwise slight story unfolds a bit too slowly and the acting is often amateurish.  The actor who played Josh’s brother especially tended to overact.  (I’ve noticed that, when it comes to indie films like this one, it seems like there’s always at least one former theater kid who gets cast as a sidekick who proceeds to shout out all of his lines.)  Fenced Off has good intentions but the film is ultimately left down by its execution.

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