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All These Sons ★★★



Directors: Bing Liu & Joshua Altman

Cast: Billy Moore, Marshall Hatch Jr, Shamont Slaughter, Zay Manning, Charles Woodhouse

Released: Tribeca Film Festival 2021

For many years, the South and West Sides of Chicago have been problematic areas for gun violence. All These Sons examines the measures employed to provide a positive solution to reduce the crime levels in areas where heavy-handed law enforcement has failed to reach. It is a personal, immersive account following the lives of three key members that join the programmes designed to end this cycle. IMAN (the Inner-City Muslim Action Network) and MAAFA (the MAAFA redemption project) are two of such community-led programmes seeking to fill that void within society and to provide a safe haven for those at risk men wishing to improve the relationship they have with violence. Through its fast-paced editing between the two groups, All These Sons illustrates that these men are still part of a community and are sons, effectively.  

IMAN and MAAFA seek to provide lifelong tools for the men, and the documentary also provides insight into the respective lives of those working on the ground. Billy Moore identifies with the men as he has been imprisoned, and his family was impacted by gun violence. MAAFA seems to have more of a religious/ spiritual connection, not least because their meetings are within a house of worship, and its ultimate message is one of love. All These Sons depicts the passion of these leaders to help those future generations to survive away from the streets. It is a particularly shocking and bleak insight to learn that most of the men in those groups have been shot, and one was shot twenty-one times but possessed no career history. The film successfully exposes the grim reality faced by these men. All These Sons‘ decision to intersperse news footage of gun violence with the men’s personal accounts movingly provides that emotional context to sensationalised events.

No more so can this reality be felt than during Charles Woodhouse’s interview.  The interviewer or the director’s presence is felt, off-camera, within the interview, but Charles is nervously watching each car that drives by slowly. The distrust and fear are evident, for, as several group members mention, it is never known whether there may be gunfire from a passing car. That need to stay alert and basically sleep with one eye open is an unfortunate position to be within.

All These Sons explores the oft-repeated rationale for this spiral into gun violence, noticeably lacking a father figure. Organisations such as IMAN and MAAFA provide a positive impact by granting these father figures within the community. Reductions in gun violence within the local areas are due to the presence of these organisations.  Co-directors Bing Liu and Joshua Altman’s direction also provides behind the scenes footage of the problems these organisations face – primarily due to a lack of continuous funding. Such circumstances may not be revelatory, as that lack of investment has recently impacted many community services. However, after being invested in these men’s journeys, it is heart-breaking to realise that there may no longer be systems in place for them in the future to escape the poverty cycle. Unfortunately, it is that wealth inequality and lack of opportunity that may often result in recidivism.

All These Sons offers a non-judgemental view of marginalised individuals impacted by the cycle of gun violence. One particularly striking scene includes Michael from IMAN admitting that he does not know whether the perpetrators of the crime against his family were in the same room as him for the initiative. It is a powerful moment, and such a profound statement highlights the non-discriminatory nature of this level of violence. The film does not glorify or justify the violence per se and, as such, instils hope that future funding and awareness will still be available to IMAN and MAAFA to prevent further loss of life.

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