Shrunken ‘Violet’

‘American Violet’ is a story with great dramatic elements but not enough drama.

American Violet

Movies based on real-life events or people tend to sink or soar based on the level of dramatic imagination injected into the true story; that is the creative element that burnishes details and streamlines the narrative to reveal the complexities that make a story worth telling.

Think A Beautiful Mind or The Hurricane or even Rosewood on the high end of this spectrum. Unfortunately, American Violet, based on the true story of a young black woman who stands up to a corrupt and racist district attorney and in a small Texas town, falls at the other end.

The plot itself is a classic only-in-America (or, increasingly, only-in-Texas) piece of theater. In 2000, a 24-year-old mother of four finds herself caught up in a drug sweep orchestrated by the Robertson County district attorney, who deploys the local police like military commandos against the black residents of the county.

The woman, Dee Roberts, is arrested and learns that a single informant has identified her—and everyone else caught in the sweep—as a drug dealer. She faces a stiff sentence if she accepts an offer to plead guilty to the trumped-up charges. All around her, friends and neighbors—poverty-level, project-housing dwellers—are copping pleas to save themselves jail time, expense and further embarrassment.

But she refuses, and eventually the ACLU takes her case. The rest is history. While there are the elements of great drama here, they never translate to the screen.