By J. K. Schmid, AFRO Staff
A documentary on Baltimore’s housing crisis has entered the final stages of negotiating its distribution deal.
“Owned: A Tale of Two Americas,” produced and directed by Giorgio Angelini, delves into the divergent paths Black and White home ownership took in the post-war boom.
Centered in Baltimore, “Owned” sets out to explain why the promises of presidents Johnson, Nixon and Reagan were never realized in Black communities. The film uses interviews with thought leaders like New York Times writer and MacArthur Fellow Nikole Hannah-Jones and Morgan State’s own Lawrence Brown, Associate Professor of the School of Community Health & Policy; alongside case studies such as the centerless sprawl of California’s Inland Empire and the mass-produced suburb of Levittown, New York.
“Levittown is the place where it all started in many ways, and Baltimore, as Lawrence [Brown] describes, is the place where racist zoning and the process of how to segregate cities was started there,” Angelini told the AFRO.
“Black lives matter, but Black lives don’t matter if Black neighborhoods don’t matter,” Brown says in the film.
“As soon as I started listening to Lawrence Brown and his lectures and talks, it was like ‘this guy needs to be in the movie and the city needs to be the basis of that,’ Angelini said.
Featured prominently is also the story of Greg Butler, the Baltimore man who rose to infamy after slashing a fire hose during the 2015 Freddie Gray protests and riots. Trapped in Baltimore City by $1 million in restitution, Butler is now working on flipping houses in his community.
Butler is forbidden to leave the city until the restitution is paid. His repayments of $100 per month are scheduled to be completed in 800 years.
Angelini, a student of architecture, started his project an investigation of the relationship between capitalism and design, as told through architecture.
“But as my own research and body of knowledge developed it seemed clear that it would have been a real mistake to make a movie criticizing suburbia without telling the larger story of racial inequality,” Angelini said. “Baltimore just as a city, there’s really not any place in the country like it, and I think most people’s understanding of it is from shows like “The Wire” which make it seem like it’s a really unfortunate situation, but it’s constrained to some area.”
Angelini’s own investigations, tell a different story. Drone footage of vacant Baltimore homes reveal collapsed roofs and a general hollowing rot in parts of the city, something that can’t general be seen through boarded up windows and doors.
“It’s the entire city,” Angelini said. “If Americans were to walk through it, they would see that it’s a national tragedy and it was done like this on purpose.”
“Owned” premiered at DOC NYC November 12 and is scheduled for a streaming release through Gravitas in mid-2019.