The place: the Bayou of Louisiana. The time: the Sixties. The Crime: one boy touching another to stop a fight. Because the touching was effected by a black teenager, the attempted deterent turned into a federal case that with ancillary cases that re-defined the Constitution.
A Crime on the Bayou is a defining documentary, excellent and exhilarating — and every bit as important in this day and age as the film and stories being produced about the Tulsa Race Massacre of 100 years ago. The bayou sits in Plaquemines Parish, ruled by the screaming segregationist Leander Perez. Boss Perez, even being grilled by William F. Buckley, makes no apologies for damning Blacks to hell as “immoral.” “I’m not a bigot,” Perez added on “Firing Line” as the television audience hoots in derision.
“If there wouldn’t have been a Perez, there wouldn’t have been a case,” says Richard Sobol, a white, Northern, Jewish, civil rights lawyer, one of a cadre who headed south in the Sixties. He defended Duncan, who had tried to stop that fight after white boys, angry that their schools had been desegregated, tried to start a fight that followed Perez’ model of hate against Blacks and Jews.
Sobol designed the case of Gary Duncan as one against a human being, not solely a civil rights case. A Crime on the Bayou follows not only Duncan’s case but also Sobol’s. Sobol v. Perez addressed the jury system in the United States and transformed the South.
Writer/director Nancy Buirski (producer of The Loving Story) builds tension as she guides commentaries. Included are those of Sobol, Duncan, Ta Nehisi Coates, lawyer Lolis Eric Elie’s son, and Armand Derfner of the Lawyers’ Constitutional Defense Committee. Actors voice the parts of the constituents in the re-enactments. Buirski exploits not only period music but also an original song by Raphael Saadiq. She adds evocative shots of the bayou.
A Crime on the Bayou may be news to viewers because the court cases, like the Tulsa race massacre, have not received widespread attention, but it is hoped that this film will change that ignorance.