A showing of a film at Shiloh Baptist Church about America’s failed drug war proved to be a huge inaugural weekend attraction on Jan. 19, with hundreds of people lining up more than 90 minutes before doors opened at the Northwest Washington house of worship.

By 11 a.m., a long line snaked around Shiloh, located at 9th and O streets NW, for the viewing of “The House I Live In,” winner of a 2012 Sundance Award. Those waiting to see the film included local dignitaries, students and visitors to the nation’s capital for the inauguration. More than 200 members of the media also attempted to gain access, witnesses said.

“It’s crazy!” said Jonah Smith, 37, of Dallas, as he stood in the long line. He said he went to the event because he wanted to mix the patriotic events on the Mall with some “flava.” He said he whiled away the time in line chatting “with some of the beautiful women of D.C.” 

“When I found out the lineup for the event, I took a cab over,” he said. “I hope I get in the door. If not, I hope I find somebody who has some ball tickets and needs a date. Seriously, this is an important film with an important message about a subject that has been tragic for Black folks.”

The critically acclaimed film, which was released last fall, depicts the nation’s effort to curtail drug sales. “Fearless!” Manohla Dargis wrote in the {New York Times}. “A model of the ambitious, vitalizing activist work that exists to stir the sleeping to wake.” {Forbes} called it the “Best Documentary of 2012.” 

The film was executive produced by actors Danny Glover and Brad Pitt, businessman Russell Simmons and R&B crooner John Legend. 

Dr. E. Gail Anderson Holness, an ANC commissioner in Northwest, said she wanted to see the film because she pastors a church located in a drug-plagued community.

“I consider myself an urban pastor,” she said. “I believe in community and that it takes a community to raise up a people that have been down so long that getting’ up ain’t on their minds. I honor progress for our community.”

After a truncated version of the film was viewed, guests were treated to a panel discussion featuring Glover, Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va.) and Prof. Charles Ogletree, director of the Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race and Justice at Harvard Law School. 

Audience members included CNN commentator Roland Martin, Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) and the recently widowed Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), who drew a standing ovation. The applause grew more thunderous when he walked to the front of the church and acknowledged the audience.

Tuere Marshall, 61, of Northwest Washington, a professor at Montgomery College, said she attended the event as part of her National Day of Service recognition. She signed up online to volunteer at a local school one day per month. 

“I came because I wanted to get in touch with the legacy of Dr. King,” she said. “Sometimes we get caught up in getting off work and the commercialism of going to the mall for sales, but the day is supposed to be about events that speak to his legacy of love, excellence and service. I feel that this film, which talks about the plight of our young people right now, speaks to that and what is happening right now with the gun issue. I know that is an issue that Dr. King would have been involved in.”

Waters urged those in attendance to encourage others to see the film.
“This program, other than the swearing in on Monday, is the most significant event of the inaugural weekend,” she told the audience at the conclusion of the program.