'Pahokee' Has A Levity and Warmth Often Lost In Documentaries Depicting Black Rural Life [Sundance Review]
For years, inner city Black life has been a focus in cinema in both the narrative and documentary sectors. Movies like Menace II Society and Hoop Dreams were marketed as the sole depictions of the African American experience. However, in recent years—particularly in documentaries like the Oscar-nominated Hale County, This Morning, This Evening —there have been numerous illustrations of rural Black life. With their film Pahokee— directors Ivete Lucas and Patrick Bresnan join a new class filmmakers including RaMell Ross, Amman Abbasi, and Margaret Byrn in examining present-day Black life in some of the country’s most rural areas.
Located on the shore of Lake Okeechobee in Palm Beach County, Florida and boasting a population of just under 6,000 people Lucas and Bresnan turn their lens on the town of Pahokee. The audience is given a front row seat as the tiny, close-knit community experiences the highs and lows of the 2016-2017 school year. Out of a class of 103 seniors at the Pahokee Middle-High School, Pahokee follows four students, Na’Kerria Nelson, Jocabed Martinez, BJ Crawford and Junior Wallace who are all navigating their way through their final days of adolescence.
Unlike many documentary films that examine impoverished people of color like Phantom Cowboys or Quest, Pahokee does not peel back the layers of the students' personal lives. Instead, the documentary centers the high school, its numerous extracurricular activities, and the frenzy of Homecoming, the Football State Championship, college acceptance, signing day and graduation.
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