The Neutral Ground is a strong documentary following the ongoing battle over Confederate monuments in American cities. It particularly focuses on three bronze statues in New Orleans that were ordered to be removed in 2015 but stood for two long years afterward due to fierce opposition from Southern groups that ardently cling to the Lost Cause cultural narrative. CJ Hunt, a former school teacher-turned-writer for The Daily Show, directed and stars in the film.
It blends comedy with hard journalism, such as interviews with activists and on-location participation in Civil War re-enactments to understand the views of Confederate cosplayers. It’s witty and informative, managing to touch on a broad range of topics in a short amount of time. That’s impressive, given how it grew in the telling from the initial city council meeting in 2015 to Republicans openly embracing white supremacy a year later and the constant battles over monuments throughout the last half-decade culminating in summer 2020. There is a lot for Hunt to cover, and he manages it superbly.
The controversy and protests surrounding the statues can feel like an issue on the backburner now that we have a President who isn’t a racist nutjob, That couldn’t be farther from the case. Hunt dives deep into the nature of the Lost Cause narrative, into the reconstructions and subsequent segues into the Jim Crow era of American History. He explores why those narratives took hold and how deeply they remain ingrained in American popular culture. Although the statues aren’t currently in the news, and the protests of 2020 have tapered off, it’s all part of the same ongoing struggle inherent in the American identity — whether all men are created equal and whether our history will accurately reflect the fact that our country rarely answers that question with the affirmative.
The Neutral Ground is available as part of the Heartland Film Festival’s online offerings from Oct. 7 to Oct. 17.
An in-person screening will be held at 7:45 p.m. EDT on Saturday, Oct. 16 at the Kan-Kan Cinema and Brasserie.