Jun 15, 2019
Welcome back for our final episode before a two-week break here at One Movie Punch. As always, I like to close out the section with a film I’ve been meaning to watch, but haven’t had time for until now. And let me tell you, today’s film has been HIGH on my list. See what I did there?
For a few other recent Netflix Original documentaries, check out “Knock Down The House” (Episode #497), “Reversing Roe” (Episode #496), One Movie Spouse’s review for “Homecoming: A Film by Beyoncé” (Episode #488), and Keith Lyons’ review for “The Legend of Cocaine Island” (Episode #486).
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Here we go!
Today’s movie is “Grass Is Greener”, the Netflix Original documentary directed by Fab 5 Freddy, hip-hop star, former host of “Yo! MTV Raps”, and lifetime cannabis advocate. The film details the history of marijuana in the United States from a black cultural perspective, from its original association with early jazz and swing pioneers, its mainstreaming via the Beats and the counter-cultural movement, the infamous War on Drugs started by Nixon which continues through today, and the blossoming recreational marijuana industry as states continue to decriminalize and legalize.
I remember being educated about drugs in the late 1980s and early 1990s as part of our public-school experience. It started as the Just Say No program, teaching full drug abstinence, and got a little more nuanced with the D.A.R.E. program and a host of scare advertisements like the infamous fried egg brain on drugs commercial. And without having the Internet to cross-check anything I was being told, I largely accepted everything I was taught as the truth instead of a well-concealed propaganda campaign. I believed people who smoked pot got reefer madness. I believed marijuana was just as dangerous as heroin. I believed drug users were destroying their minds with every use. And, of course, I believed drinking was just fine because they sponsored football games and always had fun.
And then I got high. A lot younger than anyone should, to be honest, somewhere around thirteen or fourteen. There was a group of us, and we experimented with all sorts of drugs. I had to give them up, because some friends were getting involved in gang activity, and others were slowly slipping into much harder drugs. It wasn’t until my last week in college that I smoked weed again, when someone offered to get me high after a night at the bars. When I moved out to California, all the weed you could want was just a prescription away. Weed started to mainstream, and we’ve gotten to a point in society where we have to ask, why was it ever illegal in the first place? Today’s film helps to answer that question.
The biggest takeaway from today’s documentary is that you can’t talk about marijuana, or about drug policy in general, without talking about race. Fab 5 Freddy’s chronological look at marijuana in the United States begins with the first imports into Texas and Louisiana, and how the plant and its use was immediately attached to communities of color, and in particular, the jazz scene in New Orleans. Fab 5 Freddy walks through the history of marijuana, from a political standpoint as white politicians began outlawing the drug as a means of disrupting communities of color, and from a cultural standpoint as marijuana embedded itself into the music, art, film, and social scenes. And now, as multiple states are decriminalizing recreational and medical marijuana, Fab 5 Freddy also talks about the disproportionate treatment of communities of color when it comes to drug policy. Increased patrol rates, detainment rates, citation rates, arrest rates, bail amounts, and sentencing, including three strikes lifetime sentences for small amounts of marijuana. And more importantly, how can we have people locked up for life over marijuana, and still allow anyone who can afford to buy into the burgeoning marijuana industry to profit.
I only had two criticisms about the documentary. The first was a long tangent into the extrajudicial killings of black lives by the police, which is definitely related to drug policy, but felt out of step with the rest of the documentary, no matter how important the topic is. In fact, I would love to see Fab 5 Freddy take on police brutality, just in another documentary to explore the topic with the justice it deserves. The second was that while we got a good history, and a listing of the problems with marijuana incarcerations and industry growth going forward, we rarely get a whole lot of solutions within the documentary. The best solution I heard was offered by Killer Mike of Run the Jewels, who said one way to pay reparations to populations incarcerated for marijuana convictions is to offer them licenses or jobs to enter the industry after expunging their records. As always, Killer Mike is on point with his political analysis. I don’t have all the answers myself, but I do know we can’t keep people locked up for life for something that is perfectly legal now, and was never that harmful in the first place, especially if people stand to make billions.
“Grass Is Greener” is an insightful documentary into the history of marijuana in the United States, specifically from a black cultural perspective. The documentary shows the complicated social and political relationship between the country, society, and marijuana, but doesn’t always offer the solutions we need to ensure marijuana legalization benefits everyone equally and rectifies the previous injustices. Documentary fans, and cannabis advocates, should definitely check out this film, along with anyone who wants an unvarnished look at marijuana politics.
Rotten Tomatoes: 100%
One Movie Punch: 7.5/10
“Grass Is Greener” (2019) is rated TV-MA and is currently playing on Netflix.
Joseph: “Well, that’s a wrap here on another cycle for One Movie Punch. Everyone’s headed home for the week. We hit 30,000 downloads, 500 episodes, and now two weeks off for some well-deserved rest and relaxation.”
Joseph: “Do you hear that?”
Amy: “What the… do you SEE that?”
Joseph: “Let me get the One Movie Punch Spyglass here… oh crap!”
Amy: “What is it?”
Joseph: “It’s an armada of ships, bearing a flag with strange headphones-laden silhouettes!”
Amy: “That’s not… Big Heads Media, is it?”
Joseph: “I thought they were joking about a hostile takeover.”
Amy: “What should we do?”
Joseph: “Let me call… crap. They’ve jammed cellular and satellite communications. I’ll head to the studio, lock it down, and try to get a word out on the land line. You need to escape and go for help, in case they’ve cut that off as well.”
Amy: “All right. I’ll head to the One Movie Punch Escape Submarine. Are you going to be okay?”
Joseph: “I don’t know, we’ll see. Wasn’t how I was planning to spend our vacation.”
Amy: “Me either.”
Joseph: “All right, you should get out of here. Gimme some sugar, baby.”
Joseph: “Always the best. Now go! And let’s see just how formidable this network is…”