In 2007 Mobile, Alabama, Mardi Gras is celebrated... and complicated. Following a cast of characters, parades, and parties across an enduring color line, we see that beneath the surface of pageantry lies something else altogether.
Mobile, Alabama, 2007: the oldest Mardi Gras in the United States is a study in Black and White. Groups prepare coronations, parades, balls, and revelry. White and Black communities have separate royal courts and separate events. People comment on these vestiges of segregation, some critical and some okay with it. The Black king and queen come to the coronation of the White royal couple, and the White king and queen join the celebration at the Comrades party, a primarily Black event. City patriarchs agree to do more together, and the city's youth seem to want more interaction as well. The film explores possible contradictions between preserving traditions and putting the old Mobile behind them.Written by
If you think racial segregation is a thing of the past in the good 'ole U.S. of A, "The Order of Myths" should disabuse you of that notion right quick.
It's a little known fact that the Mardi Gras in Mobile, Alabama is the oldest such celebration on American soil, predating the one in New Orleans by a number of years (some date it to as far back as 1699). Of far more interest and note is that, to this very day, the Mobile Mardi Gras is presided over by a pair of kings and queens - one white, the other black - with the balls and parades largely segregated along racial lines as well. Margaret Brown's fascinating and eye-opening documentary focuses on the history of the event, along with the intense behind-the-scenes preparations for the celebration in 2007. Brown interviews the respective kings and queens, as well as many of the designers and planners responsible for pulling the event off year after year. Brown also chronicles the many "mystical" organizations who donate money and manpower to the cause (the oldest being The Order of Myths, from which the movie derives its title).
Brown has opted not to use narration in her film, preferring to let the people she's interviewing speak for themselves, some articulately, some seemingly unaware of how exactly it is they are coming across - or perhaps they do and just don't care. Yet, no matter how desperately we may want to concentrate solely on the pomp and spectacle of the occasion or to join in the celebration, the images of rooms full of white people and rooms full of black people can't help but color our perception and diminish our enjoyment of the carnival as a whole.
Still, it would be easy, I suppose, for outsiders to feel smugly superior to the people on screen, not only for their racist and, in some cases, sexist attitudes, but for their allegiance to traditions that may strike many of us as hopelessly outdated and silly. But Brown avoids turning her movie into an excuse for Southern-bashing and post-Bellum condescension by trying to honestly examine the roots and heritage of the community she's chronicling, not excluding the ugly side as well - the slave trade, the lynchings (including one as recently as 1981), the historic influence of the KKK.
So, based on this film, can we conclude that present-day Mobile is a hotbed of racists and bigots? Well, it does have an African-American mayor, and there does appear to have been some small movement towards integrating the festivities in recent years.
But in this post-Obama era, it might be incumbent on the fine folk of Mobile, in this one respect at least, to make a little effort to join the rest of us here in the 21st Century.
A must-see film.
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