Click to Skip Ad
Closing in...
HBO Drops First Trailer for 'Confirmation' HBO Drops First Trailer for 'Confirmation' Watch First Trailer for 'Roots' Reboot Watch First Trailer for 'Roots' Reboot Watch: Sri Lankans of African Descent Fight to Keep Their Culture Alive in 'Kaffir Culture' Watch: Sri Lankans of African Descent Fight to Keep Their Culture Alive in 'Kaffir Culture' Taraji P. Henson Will Topline Film Based on Story of Black Women Mathematicians Who Worked for NASA During the Space Race Taraji P. Henson Will Topline Film Based on Story of Black Women Mathematicians Who Worked for NASA During the Space Race Enter The New Normal Writing Contest From Issa Rae's ColorCreative & Project Greenlight Digital Studios Enter The New Normal Writing Contest From Issa Rae's ColorCreative & Project Greenlight Digital Studios Missed It Last Night? Watch 'A Ballerina’s Tale' in Full Now Missed It Last Night? Watch 'A Ballerina’s Tale' in Full Now Ava DuVernay Wanted for Two (2!) Major Sci-Fi/Fantasy Studio Projects (UPDATE: Lupita Nyong'o May Star in One of Them) Ava DuVernay Wanted for Two (2!) Major Sci-Fi/Fantasy Studio Projects (UPDATE: Lupita Nyong'o May Star in One of Them) Tonight: Nelson George's Misty Copeland Doc - 'A Ballerina’s Tale' - Premieres on INDEPENDENT LENS Tonight: Nelson George's Misty Copeland Doc - 'A Ballerina’s Tale' - Premieres on INDEPENDENT LENS Now Streaming on Netflix: Award-Winning 'Sand Dollars' (Dominican Republic's Best Foreign Language Film Oscar Entry) Now Streaming on Netflix: Award-Winning 'Sand Dollars' (Dominican Republic's Best Foreign Language Film Oscar Entry) Jamie Foxx Will Play Little John to Taron Egerton's Robin Hood in "Progressive" Take on the Legend Jamie Foxx Will Play Little John to Taron Egerton's Robin Hood in "Progressive" Take on the Legend James Franco Will Direct Film Based on Aziah "Zola" Wells' 148-Tweet Narrative That Went Viral James Franco Will Direct Film Based on Aziah "Zola" Wells' 148-Tweet Narrative That Went Viral Watch the Electrifying First Trailer for Don Cheadle's 'Miles Ahead' Watch the Electrifying First Trailer for Don Cheadle's 'Miles Ahead' Madonna's 'Blonde Ambition' Dancers Tell Their Own Stories in New Documentary 'Strike a Pose' Madonna's 'Blonde Ambition' Dancers Tell Their Own Stories in New Documentary 'Strike a Pose' Watch Episode 1 of PBS' New Civil War-Set Drama Series 'Mercy Street' + On-Set Visit Watch Episode 1 of PBS' New Civil War-Set Drama Series 'Mercy Street' + On-Set Visit LeToya Luckett, Wendy Raquel Robinson, Andra Fuller Star in New TV One Comedy Series 'Here We Go Again' LeToya Luckett, Wendy Raquel Robinson, Andra Fuller Star in New TV One Comedy Series 'Here We Go Again' TV One Aims to Change the Reality Genre with New Series, 'The Next 15' TV One Aims to Change the Reality Genre with New Series, 'The Next 15' Carolina Panthers QB Cam Newton Is Heading to TV Carolina Panthers QB Cam Newton Is Heading to TV Why Was Janet Hubert (Aunt Viv) Really Replaced on 'Fresh Prince of Bel-Air'? Why Was Janet Hubert (Aunt Viv) Really Replaced on 'Fresh Prince of Bel-Air'? Netflix Explains Why It Doesn't Always Have That Film Or TV Show You Really Want To See (Video) Netflix Explains Why It Doesn't Always Have That Film Or TV Show You Really Want To See (Video) Tichina Arnold Says She Talked To Martin Lawrence About Doing A 'Martin' Movie... Tichina Arnold Says She Talked To Martin Lawrence About Doing A 'Martin' Movie...

Review: 'Gideon's Army' Is A Necessary Look At The Work Done By The Unsung (HBO Tonight)

Photo of Tambay A. Obenson By Tambay A. Obenson | Shadow and Act July 1, 2013 at 11:54AM

Director Dawn Porter's Gideon's Army, which will premiere tonight, July 1, on HBO, can be summarized as follows: 3 young, idealistic public defenders in the Deep South - Travis Williams, Brandy Alexander and June Hardwick - struggle against long hours, low pay and staggering caseloads to ensure justice is served for America’s forgotten poor.
0
Public Defender Brandy Alexander in Dawn Porter's 'Gideon's Army'
HBO/Dawn Porte Public Defender Brandy Alexander in Dawn Porter's 'Gideon's Army'

Director Dawn Porter's Gideon's Army, which will premiere tonight, July 1, on HBO, can be summarized as follows: 3 young, idealistic public defenders in the Deep South - Travis Williams, Brandy Alexander and June Hardwick - struggle against long hours, low pay and staggering caseloads to ensure justice is served for America’s forgotten poor.

There's a melancholy that runs through the entire documentary, as we get to know, quite intimately, 3 of the 15,000+ men and women public defenders in this country, as well as the many clients each represents. Despite the courtroom wins (obviously not all the time), the film paints a rather sobering portrait of the lives of these 3 young black women and man.

Over-worked (each representing dozens of clients at a single time), and underpaid, while also facing challenges maintaining steady, healthy relationships, and, in one particular case, a client who threatens to have his public defender killed if she doesn't win his case, as well as the constant urgency and anxiety from all the emotional peaks and valleys, one can't help but admire, although with some concern, the dedication and spunk with which they go about their seemingly unflattering, although vitally important jobs, representing primarily the poor and disenfranchised - speaking to the country's socioeconomic class divide.

So I can only applaud the recognition the film gives them, and believe it's very much warranted and even important, lest the world forget that they too need do be acknowledged and celebrated, especially with stats like this one from the New York Times, in 2010, which states that an estimated 80% of felony defendants in large states are too poor to hire their own lawyers.

And almost like superheroes, or saviors, public defenders carry much of that burden, which each tackles in their own individual way, all in the pursuit of upholding the ultimate importance and inviolability of human liberty.

But they are still very much human beings, with limits, so it should then make sense that a support group for public defenders exists; in fact, there's only one in the country, according to the film, which provides them with an opportunity to commiserate with one another, providing some respite from the challenging daily grind, but also to learn and be rejuvenated.

The minimalist, verite-style documentary is free of any embellishments - even a soundtrack, except for the occasional muted drone or beats. Director Porter simply documents the action, on camera, sans voiceover narration, or any visual gimmicks. She doesn't lead the audience nor insert herself into the picture, which I appreciated, as it could've lessened the impact audiences would experience of this rather cold, stark, all-consuming, even dangerous and potentially depressing world that the film's subjects exist in - both the public defenders and their primarily impoverished clients.

But the director wisely closes-out the film, countering the bleakness that consumes much of its running time, ending with a rousing, riveting, tear-inducing 15-minute finale, showcasing one of our public defenders (Brandy Alexander) at work in the courtroom, as she's able to, via her arguments, raise enough reasonable doubt in the minds of the jury, to win her client - a tattooed teen boy accused of armed robbery, facing a decade in prison without parole - "not guilty" verdicts on all counts.

It's a much-needed cathartic moment, especially for Ms Alexander, herself emotional, embracing her client and his family, suggesting a kind of familial recognition from both sides, which is understandable, given how much of herself she's willingly invested (at times acting as an ersatz therapist to her clients and their families, despite all the negatives associated with the work) in ensuring that this boy, who she believes has potential, is freed.

Moments like these must be necessary to provide some much needed balance, as well as reason and the requisite internal fire one would need to want to continue with the work.

Gideon's Army is a straightforward, eye-opening snapshot at the uncelebrated, but incredibly crucial work done by a relatively invisible population comprised of government employees.

As for the title, Gideon's Army, it finds its roots in the 1963 landmark case, Gideon v. Wainwright, that led to the law which states that all defendants are guaranteed an attorney in criminal proceedings. Gideon was charged with breaking into a bar and stealing money and beer. He argued at his arraignment that he could not properly defend himself, and that a system that puts an unqualified person against a trained attorney is fundamentally unfair. On appeal, the Supreme Court of the United States agreed. And the rest is history.

An HBO Documentary Films presentation, Gideon's Army is emotionally stirring, enlightening, and very much encouraged viewing. It's definitely a film you should see when it premieres on HBO tonight, at 9pm.

This article is related to: Dawn Porter, HBO


Shadow & ActNewsletter