Dedicated to discussing crime and gun violence in Baltimore, Charm City tackles the issue from various sides. Director Marilyn Ness includes the voices of police officers, politicians, and the residents themselves as she explores the causes, effects, and potential solutions to a problem that, at times, seems unsolvable. Honest, informative, and thought-provoking, this documentary does exactly what a documentary should do. (RMM: 4.5/5)
Review by FF2 Associate Roza M. Melkumyan
Charm City opens with footage of the aftermath of a shooting on Baltimore’s Rose Street. Four people have been shot. One has been killed. According to the writing at the bottom of the screen, the date is July 2015 and Baltimore is on pace to hit the highest per capita murder rate in the city’s history.
Facts like these are repeatedly introduced in captions, effectively giving the audience relevant information while allowing those individuals interviewed to spend more time discussing their own perspectives. Some of the loudest and most heartfelt testimonies come from members of the Rose Street Community Center and their leader, Clayton “Mr. C” Gunton. Having left his position as a corrections officer in 1988, Gunton opened the center to create a sense of family for the residents of Rose Street while prioritizing social service and gun violence awareness. Gunton is not only the moral compass of the community, but is also its mobilizing force.
Another member of this force, Rose Street Youth Coordinator Alex Long, organizes fun events for the children while keeping the streets as free of violence as possible. Neither Gunton nor Long hesitate to state their opinion that the police force is a corrupt and racist institution that does more bad than good. They believe that instead of depending on officers, “the streets…have to cure the streets”.
At the Southern District police station, we meet Monique Brown. As she drives to work, she remembers how betrayed some of her friends had felt about her joining the force. In their eyes, Monique had joined the opposing side. But Monique sees herself as doing what she can to not only make a living, but to try and help people whenever and wherever she can. Meanwhile, city councilman Brandon Scott gives us a window into government officials’ ongoing debates on how to minimize the presence of gun violence.
While the individuals interviewed each stand on seemingly different sides of the problem at hand, most actually share similar childhood experiences that allow them to personally relate to one another as well as those issues plaguing their city. Growing up in Park Heights, Scott still remembers both the dead bodies and the violence he encountered day after day on the way to school. Brown’s own own brother killed her father and her mother died from an overdose. In the present, Alex fights daily to keep drug dealers off his block while taking care of his sisters Ashley and Alexis. With his father in jail and his mother struggling with drug addiction, Alex is all they have.
While it is dangerously easy to attribute Baltimore’s various problems of gun violence, poverty, drug abuse, and unemployment to gang violence, Charm City avoids this pitfall. Rather, director Marilyn Ness explores the various causes and effects of such issues while maintaining focus on those people who actually feel those effects. Through their own words, Ness avoids placing blame while reinforcing the fact that these problems are not their fault. Scott hits the nail on the head when he says that gun violence is a disease. What’s more, it is a contagious disease which means that being raised in an environment of gun violence leaves you susceptible. The process is a cycle that becomes increasingly harder to break.
I can’t stress enough how important it is to view everything from multiple perspectives, and I must applaud Charm City for doing just that. While police brutality and racism are certainly present in today’s society, the tendency to blame everything on this factor alone only causes more problems. The repeated reiteration of this belief perpetuates the idea that the police are ineffective and only strains communication between the two groups. Add the hesitancy to “snitch” on gang members for fear of retaliation, and there is practically no communication at all.
Overall, Charm City is a great documentary. Not only does it reshape the way we think about gun violence, it also shows us multiple perspectives and introduces to some truly remarkable people who are making a difference in their communities. Would recommend.
© Roza M. Melkumyan (1/15/19) FF2 Media
Featured Photo: Mr C addresses the Rose Street community.
Top Photo: Brandon Scott at work.
Middle Photo: Children sit outside.
Bottom Photo: Alex Long gets ready to give a talk.
Photo Credits: PBS Distribution
Q: Does Charm City pass the Bechdel-Wallace Test?
While both men and women are interviewed in this documentary, it is unclear whether those conducting the interviews are female or not. Furthermore, there is no discussion held between women that focuses on women, so it’s a no on this one.