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The Order of Myths

Critic's Pick Critics' Pick

(No longer in theaters)
  • Rating: No Rating
  • Director: Margaret Brown
  • Running Time: 97 minutes
  • Reader Rating: Write a Review

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Genre

Documentary

Producer

Sara Alize Cross

Distributor

The Cinema Guild

Release Date

Jul 25, 2008

Release Notes

NY

Official Website

Review

Entertaining, mind-opening docs open every month—this year’s crop includes Taxi to the Dark Side, Operation Homecoming, and Full Battle Rattle—but none has broken through to a wide audience. Now comes the latest winner, Margaret Brown’s penetrating The Order of Myths. Brown explores a potentially enraging subject—rigidly upheld racial segregation in the country’s oldest Mardi Gras celebration, in Mobile, Alabama—but her touch is so unforced and her gaze so open that no one is bruised. The situation is heartbreaking, the people … inured. Set. Following rituals passed down from evil times, too timid or unimaginative or, maybe, although it’s well below the surface these days, racist to challenge them. You just don’t know.

Brown grew up in Mobile, but she doesn’t put herself in the movie and doesn’t tip us off to any insider knowledge until the very last—brilliant, rug-pulling—interview. She takes an anthropological view; she studies the rituals, the props, the antebellum hand-sewn gowns with their long trains, the diamonds and the moon-pies. There’s a white parade and a black parade, a white king and queen and a black king and queen. It’s that way, the whites say, because the blacks want it that way. It’s such a good time. The skinny blond white queen comes from an old family; one of its patriarchs defied the law and brought in Mobile’s last slave ship. But she seems nice. Liberalism is in the air, la la. For the first time, the black king and queen attend the white king and queen’s investiture, and audience members pat themselves on the back for their enthusiastic reception. It brings a tear to your eye. And then the whites go upstairs to the ball and the black king and queen show themselves out.

In the telling, The Order of Myths sounds obvious, and its underlying racial politics might be. But Brown is scrutinizing the surface, the tension between individuals and their ways. You try to read their faces, and it’s as if they’re wearing Mardi Gras masks, held in place by… what? Fear? It’s no wonder. Without the order of myths, what’s left?

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