The Neutral Ground uses New Orleans as a backdrop by exploring the Civil War and the debate to remove Confederate monuments.
One could make the argument that New Orleans was a trendsetter in debating to remove statues. Or at least that’s how it might feel if you haven’t been actively paying attention to the discussion. For some, it only becomes of interest when it’s on the front page daily. Other cities would do so quietly but not until after last summer’s reckoning. The debate was enough to pique the interest of CJ Hunt, who would later become a field producer for The Daily Show. His initial idea may have been a short video but there’s certainly more than enough material for a feature film. Hunt was living in New Orleans when they were voting to remove the statues. However, the removal didn’t quite happen because of death threats from white supremacists. This really speaks something about power and what it holds over us. It’s another conversation for another day, of course.
This film isn’t just about New Orleans. Later on in the film, Hunt joins a colleague on a trip to Charlottesville in August 2017. So much for a feel-good ending about the Robert E. Lee statue coming down in New Orleans. We all know what happens next. White supremacists march through the town and Charlottesville becomes another dark incident in America’s history.
Why is it that these people are so loyal to the losing side of the war? Or even the Lost Cause? More recently, Lynn Shelton and Mike O’Brien made a film about one of the Civil War conspiracy theories. If you notice, there’s the poster for a Shirley Temple movie that quickly pops up. Hollywood certainly hasn’t been immune to the Lost Cause (see Gone with the Wind). It’s a conversation that we’re still discussing today. Overall, this obsession that people have with the Confederacy and wanting to keep it alive is something that needs to be discussed. Their supporters may argue that the flag represents their heritage but we all know it represents racism. After all, this was a war fought over slavery. You know it and I know both know it.
Hunt is no stranger to New Orleans. He had moved to the city because of teaching. Things changed over time and Hunt started utilizing comedy as a coping mechanism. It’s normal to turn to humor as a way of coping. Honestly, using humor is perfectly human. While Hunt injects humor into the film in a way that anyone working for The Daily Show can, it doesn’t distract from the bigger picture. But what he saw over the time he spent making this movie was not normal by any means. It’s not normal to still hate people in 2021 because of their race or it shouldn’t be. And yet, this is a problem that the United States of America is still grappling with. It’s troubling when people are still getting shot and killed or pulled over solely because they’re Black and some cop needs to fill his race quota.
The Neutral Ground may have been envisioned as an online short about removing statues in New Orleans but this film has become a bigger conversation about America’s dark past. This is a past that some unfortunately remain reluctant to confront.
DIRECTOR: CJ Hunt