The film Lone Star directed by John Sayles, truly hit home for me. While the film is about a historic time in Texas, much of the conversation and plot are still very much relevant within today’s political climate. Generally I do an overview of the whole film in a historic context. Due to the didacticism within Lone Star, I am choosing to single out specific historic subjects that the film touches upon.
I can admit, that I struggled to distance myself from the film. Unlike the previous films, this film was more tangible to me. The film was in English and focused on a subject I knew more about. The technology that went into creating the film was more modern and clearly had the resources to enhance lighting and quality. These attributes, I’m sure, played a part in my struggle to historically analyze the film.
I re-watched Lone Star several times. I began to think about how the film is considered historic. From a person who has partial roots in Texas and is from the United States, I looked at the politics. The issues that were present in 1990s, are still present now. Issues of racism, segregation, and policing are still present in Texas and other states throughout the country. I saw how the issues mentioned above were being addressed within the film and how these same issues are seen and referenced today. Today, we think we have grown from the more “in your face” portrayal of racism and policing. Yet, as we can see through the Black Lives Matter Movement, these issues are not subsiding. At the same time, they aren’t fully being addressed either.
From another standpoint, I looked at how the other films differed in how I was able to see them as history. I noted the need for subtitles. From there, I realized that these events in history weren’t entirely tangible for me, but they may be for someone else. Having not lived in some of these places, it was easier for me to see the historical aspect of the film. Those films were teaching me about a place and time in history that was unfamiliar to me. A time where I wasn’t even born. Moving along, I noted that the previous films had different goals in what they wanted the viewer to understand. The first set of films were more documentary-styled. I can always view a documentary film as historical. Those types of films are more in your face. The quality and the lighting enhanced that feeling of seeing the film as historical. The way the light hits certain people brought out different sets of emotions and angles to perceive what is happening. As we moved into a more story-based historical film series, I still needed subtitles and further research to understand the context.
Noting the way I was able to view previous films, enabled me to find that in order to truly analyze and interpret Lone Star. If I wasn’t from Texas or the United States, how would I have perceived this film? There was a lot going on. As a historian, I loved how Sayles was able to incorporate so much. From the angle as an outsider, it was clustered. I would have felt the same way I did when watching Battle of Chile. This film required me to need subtitles and it felt chaotic. This was being filmed during the downfall of democracy, so it made sense to have that chaotic feel. At the same time, it made analyzing hard because I was constantly trying to figure something out. This is the same vibe that Lone Star emits. Race is already a heavy subject, especially when dealing with multiple races. We have the African Americans, the Native Americans, and the whites. We see the struggle to accept people who are different from you. We witness the threat of a police state on a community. We are thrown into various portrayals of boundaries from immigration to interracial love to incest. If you can’t link the notion of boundaries through each relationship, then things can get lost and messy.
There are a lot of avenues to choose from, but I specifically wanted to look into the boundaries theme. There are many forms of immigration that occur within the film. The more obvious forms of immigration are illegal immigration, where within the film sneaking over the Mexican-Texas border is discussed, and legal immigration, where Mercedes declares that everyone working in her café has their green cards. However, there are much more subtle displays of immigration. Toward the beginning of the film, we see Hollis, Sam, and Fenton having a conversation in a bar. They are discussing politics, or rather the lack of wanting to assimilate. Fenton is talking about feeling like a minority and essentially advocating for white supremacy, in my eyes. However, he is interrupted by Sam who acknowledges that Mexicans were on that land first. Within this conversation, we are invited to take a step back and see that the whites are immigrants too. They came from their previous states to setup home in Texas. We can also consider Mexicans as being partial immigrants in the sense that they were once colonized by the Spanish who came from Spain and the Native American people are a nomadic group. Between mixed-Mexicans and the Native American people, these two groups are now seen as the problem. The Natives are casted to a reservation instead of living within the town. If we can look at these groups in a historical lens, then the same can be done for African Americans.
When Texas became an official state, slavery was permitted. African Americans were forced to migrate into Texas for slave labor. In 1865, Texas was the last state that enslaved people heard that they were in fact free. A migration to the North and West, known as the Great Migration, occurred. Some African Americans moved westward, and stopped in Texas. Looking at the African American community, we can question how many of them were forced “migrants” and how many chose to move during the Great Migration?
The film takes us deeper. There is a history within interracial love and incest. At one point, interracial marriage was outlawed. When it became legal, there was still hesitation. Today, people can marry whom they want, but there is more of an influence from family than society. In a way the boundary of interracial love has evolved. On the other hand, incest was once common. In doing my own ancestry, I have close cousins marrying and I’ve come upon instances where siblings married. Now, there are laws in which incest is prohibited. There are states who are lenient when it comes to certain types of cousins, but for the most part, incest is both legally and socially unacceptable. I believe Sayles toils with the boundary of interracial love and incest in order to drive in on the theme of boundaries and how society and personal can sometimes clash. We don’t have to understand people’s choices, but in some ways, we have to accept their decisions as their own.
Lone Star is an overall great film with both mystery and drama.