Mardi Gras may be synonymous with New Orleans, but Mobile, Alabama’s own history with the pre-Lent event dates back to the early 1700s. (This will be on the midterm, so pay attention.) The city’s parades and balls are also the last bastion of segregation, though as Margaret Brown’s doc on Mobile’s 2007 Mardi Gras shows, the times are a-(somewhat)-changin’. That year’s festivities were the first in which the African-American community’s regents attended their fair-skinned counterparts’ coronation, and vice versa. Judging from the way both sides embrace this small step, it may now be only a matter of time before the town enters the 21st century.
The disconnect displayed is astounding: Caucasians talk about progress while African-Americans in antebellum uniforms serve them drinks. A woman bemoans her daughter’s ignorance of hometown history, yet we don’t see her at a bicentennial for the last slave ship to leave Mobile. If there’s a flaw in Brown’s gentle damnation, it’s the lack of oppositional voices; so the filmmaker’s grandfather is the only local who views this new harmony with reluctance? The tendency to skew toward a Rainbow Coalition vibe makes it feel like part of the story is MIA, yet this microcosmic look at race relations is a great reminder that, even in the year of Obama, we remain a nation divided between black and white.