“The Public” is a movie that was released in Canada in 2018, but was only showing at a limited number of theatres in the United States in beginning on April 5, 2019. After viewing this movie–which is available for online rental–it is easily understandable why most of the financial backers and movie theatres had no interest in widely releasing this movie. In an era of activist art, Emilio Estevez demonstrates that he has not idly spent his time away from the public eye, but instead has been watching several dynamics play out on the national level. Despite not having extensive experience in direction or writing, Estevez shows that progressives, liberals, and the general Left have a long way to come to address local issues.
Watching this movie as a Black activist, I was refreshed to see that all of the activists tropes were present. No spoilers are being included with this review, but the trailer shows that the homeless population of Cincinnati took over one public library location in response to a lack of shelter space during the polar vortex. Many representations of activism show people doing breathtaking groundwork while being embittered and lonely. Estevez showed that activism happens on a number of levels, and that all levels on the spectrum of involvement are needed for any movement to reach the populace. Fortunately, the ultimate lesson is that a movement not led by those experiencing the marginalization will not ultimately be successful.
Race is covered without the movie being explicitly about race, which was a more helpful dynamic considering that people of color live in our skin on a daily basis, often without being able to discuss how we are affected by race. Local politics play a part while allowing a glimpse of how no action is ever completely genuinely when people function in the public eye. Because groundwork is done, the viewers can see that direct responses to solutions are simplified while the silent majority prefers the delay and complications of discussion and policy enactment. Estevez pulls no punches and crowns no monarchs are he reveals the challenge of navigating the liabilities of public engagement.
What I feel more of the reviewers missed is what Estevez and his brilliant main cast–including Jeffrey Wright, Jena Malone, Alec Baldwin, and Christian Slater–executed effortlessly: people play a number of roles while existing, and no one knows any individual’s struggle without engagement. All of the societal issues in public spaces occur while people are working, running for office, being parents, and whatever else is happening. There is no ability to compartmentalize one’s role as a parent even while at work. Homeless people do not eschew friendships to wallow in their lack of stability. Everyone has to deal with everything on a daily basis, which is not up for negotiation.
From an activist perspective, the other main point is that movements are ineffective unless all are equally vulnerable. Being involved with a cause is considered a hobby for some while a calling for others, but at some point, people involved have to make consistent sacrifices. One of the reasons that many of the national movements have experienced difficulties is that many are unwilling to sacrifice an iota of comfort. Enjoying the eye of the public is a strong motivation, and attention without discomfort has become the goal of many, a reality that was discretely echoed throughout the movie. When viewing this movie, it is important to understand who is actually trying to help and who is more interested in talking about helping from a safe distance.