The Boys in Red Hats (2021) Poster

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Meh, where to begin?
bnitcamela21 December 2022
Warning: Spoilers
The filmmaker in this case is a documentarian for NatGeo, although I've never seen any of his previous films. This was important to me because this movie, like the incident it is based on, is incredibly sloppy and full of cloying attempts to present "both sides" of the story. IMHO, he tries too hard to virtue signal to everyone involved while pretending he isn't doing so.

We start off with the infamous events that occurred on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial back in 2019 where one member of a rowdy group of catholic school boys is shown by the MSM to the whole country (and world) in a manner that completely lacks any meaningful context. The director walks us through his own initial reaction to the incomplete story and then goes about providing the missing details that put an entirely different spin on what went down. As it happens, this group of school boys were in Washington D. C. to protest abortion and on top of that many were donning red MAGA hats. They were accosted by a group of Black Hebrew Israelites (BHI from here on), a notoriously confrontational and anti-Semitic group of radical African Americans. After responding to the BHI with a school chant/fight song, things appear to be escalating and a guy posing as a Native American tribal elder attempts to intervene by beating his peace drum as he inches closer and closer to the group of boys; one in particular by the name of Sandmann (is it really pronounced Sand Man?) who has decided to insert himself into the situation by moving from the middle of the group toward the front, the line of contact. As we've all seen millions of times in the viral video and pictures, Sandmann appears to smirk condescendingly in the face of the would-be tribal elder while wearing his red MAGA hat. That was the totality of the story presented to us on day one, but was eventually corrected on the following day by most outlets who did the one-sided reporting/sharing.

From there, the film decides to analyze both sides of the complete picture starting with a profile of the Catholic school that the boys attend, Covington Catholic HS (annoyingly always referred to as CovCath) which is located in northern suburban Kentucky. It so happens that the director is an alumnus of this "elite" private religious prep academy so he presents himself as uniquely able to do a deep dive into that institution, its history and its traditions. His viewpoint is offset by his co-producer, who comes at the project from a decidedly anti-Trump SJW angle in a manner that only occasionally verges on offensive or totally wrong.

We are informed that the director was once punched in the forehead by a well respected teacher at "CovCath" (in front of a whole classroom, BTW) and that he never reported it due to fear of reprisals, in part because he was not upper class as most of the students there were/are, but was only allowed to attend on a football scholarship. This is a mostly needless diversion from the main story and they don't do a good job of integrating it into the overall film, IMO. If anything, it is an example of how close knit and insular the CovCath community is, the (often unearned) respect given to older male authority figures, and how they keep things confined to their "bubble."

That aside, we also learn that the Native American participant in the events is largely a fraud and has been caught lying about several important things in his past, which casts immediate doubt on his claims that, among other offensive things, the boys were chanting "build the wall" (they weren't) on national TV the following day. However, as we are all human and nobody is perfect, the director presents a different Native American analyst who explains the significance of the drum, tells us that most Native Americans are in fact offended by the "Indian" chanting and tomahawk chopping motions in American sports, not to mention team names like the Redskins (since changed to the Commanders) and Seminoles. Fair enough, as the CovCath boys were in fact mocking (?) the chants of the Native Americans and making tomahawk gestures at him; facts clearly evident from the complete video. This delves into a societal issue of (white) privilege as it specifically pertains to how Native Americans are treated and how their culture has been historically disrespected and nearly wiped out. But that's a sidebar.

As we continue, we hear from some current members of the CovCath community, including some of the chaperones that were with the kids on the day of the incident, parents, current and former students and a former teacher. Interestingly the current student's identity is carefully hidden to prevent the kinds of threats and harassment that allegedly happened to Sandmann - and also likely to prevent any further litigation, as - at the time - the Sandmann family's various defamation suits were making their way through the court system (more on this in a bit). The general message received is that there was absolutely nothing wrong with how the students, chaperones and school comported itself that day, as well as a defense of the overall moral compass and traditions of CovCath. Problematically, after the full context of the main incident was disseminated, other things began to emerge about the school. For one thing a tradition of ____(insert color)-Out (ex. White-out, Blue-out, and Black-out) rituals for certain sporting events during the school year. Initially they explain themselves very well; after all, they point out that it's not just "black face" they engage in, but many other colors as well. This narrative unravels a bit when we learn that on Black-out days in particular, numerous students captured on video not only have their entire bodies painted black, but have also adopted the contrasting white lines around their eyes and mouths, which is a direct not to actual blackface and racist minstrel shows. Whooops. And yet no apologies or even an acknowledgement that this is seen as problematic by many, including African Americans are forthcoming.

By this point in the movie's run time, things are a little disorganized. The director spends much time insisting to the audience that he's trying his darndest to interview both Sandmann and the Native American in person. One wonders what this would accomplish in the first place since we already have video interview footage of both from the days after the incident. He gets a hard "NO" from the Sandmanns (through their attorneys) and ends up driving 5 hours to the home of the Native American who is, as most of us would be, upset that his address has been located and potentially included in a documentary film.

But back to the original reason this movie was made in the first place, the film does an OK job of exposing the CovCath community's seeming blindered view on society and history, which includes notable privelege and resources, and one admits off camera that they are happy in their bubble. I don't quite know where I stand on some things, even after finishing this film. Clearly CovCath is a religious Catholic school and the teachings of the Catholic Church are clear on abortion. I also don't see a problem in a general sense of getting kids involved in activism and exercising their first amendment right to free speech and peaceable assembly to demonstrate for or against a cause. But when they also decide to take the provocative (and despite their denials, they knew darn well it was a provocation) step of donning the red MAGA hat, it becomes problematic for me.

First, why get kids involved in situations like this in the first place when the vast majority of them aren't old or learned enough to really understand politics outside of what they hear at home and likely at school? There is no way that these boys understand the real history of the United States or any of the nuances of the loaded message sent by embracing the "make America great again" ethos, which to anyone who does understand history knows means "make America white again" (or various equivalents). There is no way they understand Trump's actual politics, and I see no reason for a bunch of kids to show up to a demonstration on an entirely different topic (abortion) carrying with them an additional political message, especially during such a fraught time and in Washington D. C. which is far more diverse (both in terms of income and ethnicity) than Covington, Kentucky. But this falls mainly on the chaperones/parents involved. Who made the dumb decision to allow (let alone encourage) a bunch of 15-18 year olds to go out and buy MAGA hats and to flaunt them as a provocation (again, this is undeniable - think of how many times you've seen someone just yell "TRUMP" in someone else's face as though it's a big middle finger). These adults are either completely naïve to reality or they are willing participants/enablers in a provocation that does nothing to help their intended anti-abortion message.

As the story continues we learn that the Sandmann family and their team of lawyers have filed numerous lawsuits against various media outlets seeking huge sums of money. On this note, it is common lore among "conservatives" I know and online that, among others, CNN settled for a massive amount of money, however this isn't true. While the terms of the settlement are technically protected by an NDA, those with knowledge of the matter assure us that no more than legal fees were agreed upon, and just from CNN. All the other suits have been summarily dismissed and tossed out of court in the time since this film was made. Regardless, Sandmann and his family were the only party to initiate any sort of legal claims; something all the other non-CovCath parties don't have the resources to pursue. CovCath essentially has doubled down and refused outside diversity training and continues to exist in its comfortable upper- and upper-middle class bubble of its choosing. The director doesn't provide any further closure or the idea he's really learned anything.
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Recollections may vary
SteverB20 December 2022
Now that this film is finally available to see on Peacock, instead of in some pay-per-view limbo where it's been for the past year, I'm hoping that it will be viewed by many more people.

At the outset, I should say that my father's family is from Covington, KY and I've been there many times through the years. Dad did not go to Cov Cath because he wasn't Catholic, and likely wouldn't have been welcome there. But, he's been gone for 27 years, so I no longer have a dog in this fight.

The Red Hats. THAT was the problem. But it seemed that the boys from Covington didn't see it that way because free speech and all that. Their upper middle-class privilege mattered too, in that they never gave a second thought to wearing them in the middle of Washington DC, a notoriously Democratic city. I don't put the word "white" in the middle of the privilege argument because this is not racial. It's PURE politics, although race does play a part, but as I see it, it's not the main part.

To say more here would be to give away the arc of this documentary, which turns in several places. It's well done in that it shows both sides, and objectively speaking, one side comes off worse than the other. It's really a matter of turning on the camera, and letting people speak, which the director frequently does, but it's not a talking head doc. It's people telling "their" truth in an effort to get to the real story.

Some things are glossed over, I assume, to prevent any sort of litigation from participants that seem very litigious to this point. As one observer says, it's only one family bringing lawsuits. Out of all those boys in Washington, it's only one family.

This doc is well balanced between the two sides, although as I said, I found one side to be less than forthcoming, and more than a little defensive. But "your mileage may vary," as they say. What I saw may have also been colored by my own political bias.

Rated as 8/10. Everyone who is interested in this event should watch. Even the side that seems defensive is eye-opening because they don't seem to see what they're saying, which is always fascinating. There were several I wanted to have a coffee with and say, "So..."
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