There are lots of people out there working hard to make the world a better place. There are also people striving to bring big changes to society as a whole. But what exactly is that secret sauce that causes change to actually take place?
That question is at the heart of the compelling documentary “Look Away, Look Away” which looks to find the answer through the lens of a very specific issue.
Writer/director Patrick O’Connor looks to understand the efforts to change the state flag in his adoptive home state of Mississippi. The Mississippi state flag portrayed the Confederate Battle Flag in its upper left-hand corner, a link to the Civil War and all of the baggage that comes with it.
The documentary begins in 2015 after the murderer of nine African-American churchgoers in Charleston, South Carolina posed with the Confederate Flag and used its imagery to spread hate on the internet.
O’Connor takes an even-handed approach letting native Mississippians on both sides of the issue have their say. The pro-change activists want a new flag that will unite all Mississippians and put the Confederate Flag and the oppression and bigotry it reflects in the past. The defenders of the flag claim it is a representation of their heritage and that it honors Confederate veterans who, through a shaky interpretation of Civil War history, were defending their homes and not the institution of slavery.
The balance of power in the state is definitely tilted towards defending the status quo and that changing hearts, minds or the flag seems highly unlikely.
It’s no spoiler to report that Mississippi does now in fact have a new flag and that this change finally did come to the Magnolia State. But what’s interesting here is that “Look Away, Look Away” leaves it up to the viewer to decide if change finally happened because of the years of work by in-state activists or if external societal pressures won the day seemingly overnight.
There are no clear answers here and the only clear takeaway is that change is messy and difficult regardless of how it comes. “Look Away, Look Away,” is a fascinating portrait of that struggle and shows that while change is possible, there’s no clear path of how to get there.
“Look Away, Look Away” is not rated but contains strong language, mild violence and disturbing imagery.