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It’s 1861 Somewhere

The Neutral Ground is the LEH Documentary Film of the Year

It’s 1861 Somewhere

The Neutral Ground

Hunt in position during a Civil War reenactment.

Cynics know that failure is not always punished, but seldom has it been lionized as vigorously as in the case of the late Confederate States of America. The nascent country lasted about four frantic years—less than the six-year term its only president was meant to serve. Its armed forces and citizenry were so battered by the war that 20 percent of Mississippi’s 1866 state budget was reserved for prostheses. And yet until 2017, New Orleans, the CSA’s most populous city (for a year, until its 1862 capture) retained a significant number of prominent monuments to the leading men of the Lost Cause, with Jefferson Davis, Robert E. Lee, and P. G. T. Beauregard gazing sternly across major thoroughfares. When these statues were targeted by an ultimately successful campaign to remove them, under the argument that the heritage they represented was inseparable from the white supremacy their subjects had espoused, all hell broke loose.

Nearly all New Orleanians and most Louisianans will remember the protests, counter-protests, arguments, and controversies surrounding the statues’ removal. Where many of us saw an insult, an embarrassment, or a mess, Black and Filipino comedian and filmmaker C. J. Hunt saw an opportunity and began conducting the interviews and investigations that would form the core of The Neutral Ground. Opening in 2015, with the beginnings of the presentations to the New Orleans City Council about the statues’ removal, the documentary proceeds through the legal, political, and cultural battles swarming around what became known collectively as “the monuments” and continues through the local movement’s wake in other areas of the country. Hunt talks to protestors, Civil War reenactors, activists, litigators, historians, and one beat-up and tearful Unite the Right rally supporter who argues that white supremacy is “just for fun.” You couldn’t make these people or this story up, but thanks to Hunt’s intrepid documentary work, you don’t have to.

The Neutral Ground is an important testament to the complex and contradictory emotions history can ignite in the present. Good, bad, or institutionally peculiar, the living subjects of the documentary tell a richer story than monuments ever could.

Chris Turner-Neal is the managing editor of 64 Parishes.