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On 23 February 2020, the young unarmed black man Ahmaud “Maud” Arbery, was jogging in Satilla Shores, Georgia when he was pursued by three white men in vehicles. Two of them were carrying guns. One admitted, “I yelled stop or I'll blow your fucking head off.” They weren’t sure he’d done anything wrong but spent five minutes trying to trap him till finally, blocking his way, they murdered him.
These events form the central thread of Jeffrey Miller’s powerful documentary drama Maud directed by Andrew French. It consists of video and audio clips, verbatim recreations of court testimony and an animated video map of the final five minutes of the chase. The actors Jeffrey Miller and Perry Williams impressively conjure up a multitude of characters from Trump to James Baldwin.
It opens by reminding us of a historical backdrop to the crime as two experts briefly discuss the disturbing 1930s picture The Lynchers by Vertis Hayes which is projected onto a back screen.
As we follow the horror of what happened to Maud and the court case that followed, we hear clips of other events that give context to our awareness of racism in America. In a scene from a 1982 interview on TV, the Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan insists, “white Americans are being treated as second-class citizens."
That is followed by the African-Americans Eric Garner and George Floyd desperately pleading, “I can't breathe,” which prompted Eric’s mum to later point out, “this man (Floyd) echoed the same words that my son said, it just was heart-wrenching, it was like wow they're still killing us.”
One of the events stirring up racism is the 2017 white supremacist rally in Charlottesville where the anti-racist protester Heather Heyer is murdered. The rally organiser claims that liberal policies were “ethnically cleansing white people from the face of the earth."
Yet Trump (Jeffrey Miller) at a press conference insists, “there’s blame on both sides and I have no doubt about it.”
A short sequence from the 1964 Cambridge debate between Buckley and Baldwin gives us a very contrasting vision of America.
Buckley (Jeffrey Miller) speaks about a “primary policy of concern ah for the negro. I challenge you to name me another civilization, anytime, anywhere in the history of the world, in which the problems of the minority is as much a subject of dramatic concern as it is in the United States.”
Baldwin, performed by Perry Williams, in the tone and manner of Baldwin argues, “the southern oligarchy which has until today so much power in Washington, and therefore, some power in the world, was created by my labour and my sweat, and the violation of my women and the murder of my children. This in the land of the free, and the home of the brave.”
The last words of this very fine, riveting production are left to Jasmine Arbery the sister of Maud.
“Ahmaud had dark skin... was tall, with an athletic build. He enjoyed running and had an appreciation for being outdoors. These are the qualities that made these men assume that Ahmaud was a dangerous criminal and chase him with guns drawn. To me, those qualities reflect that a young man, full of life, and energy, who looked like me and the people I love… Ahmaud had a future that was taken from him in the instance of violence... He would never be able to fulfill his professional dreams, nor will he be able to start a family or even be a part of my daughter's life. The loss of Ahmaud has devastated me and my family.“
Reviewer: Keith Mckenna