South by Southwest (SXSW) Film Festival – The positively adorable Alfred Enoch of childhood Harry Potter fame is all grown up in the dramatic thriller Executive Order (2020), screening as part of SXSW Online 2021’s “2020 Spotlight” category. Knocking out colorism and racism in one clever blow, director/co-writer Lázaro Ramos delivers a social-political gut-punch in one fell swoop, creating a film that is so uncanny that it is almost like a documentary about South African apartheid, Indian colonial occupation, and any other time in history when colonizers attempted to purge newly acquired lands of their native people.
In the world of Executive Order, not unlike practices seen across the world in real life, a social hierarchy exists in Brazil that is based upon a citizen’s skin color and racial makeup. Darker-skinned people, called “high melanin people”, are relegated to the position of second-class citizens, whereas people not of African descent are afforded more rights and leeway over the management of dark people. A government program, named “Return to Africa Now”, gives high melanin people the opportunity to return to their motherland free of charge, however, as racial tensions rise between its white and brown citizens, a law is passed that makes the return to Africa mandatory for anyone deemed to look like they are of African heritage.
Some of the images of civil unrest, particularly when gathering up the dark-skinned citizens for deportation, were absolutely chilling to watch in Executive Order. Again feeling like a documentary of sorts in these instances, after a particularly unrestful year due to continued racial and civil rights issues, these sequences of people clashing with police were reminiscent of images seen in the news this past year. Executive Order is a clear example of art imitating life, and though it may hit uncomfortably close to home with the racial subservience and police violence, it definitely elicits a reaction that should spark discussions, and discussions often lead to understanding and solutions. Though it is a conversational piece, Executive Order is also just a good piece of cinema even if one is not specifically looking for biting social commentary.
The social and political aspects of Executive Order‘s story are balanced by an actual narrative with likable characters, so thankfully writer/director Lázaro Ramos does not use social opinions like blunt objects to bash the audience over the head. There is a love story, there are close friendships, and there is a bad-guy, or rather a bad woman, who is nearly on par with the unlikability of Nurse Ratched (of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest) who plays a great foil character to our protagonists. Alfred Enoch as the main protagonist does not carry this movie alone, but he does well in this starring role and proves he should be given the opportunity to stand out from an ensemble more often.
The film presents a sobering example of a slippery slope that must be avoided at all costs — any rights taken away and denial of freedom gives a government a pathway to take away rights and citizenship further down the line. Mustering thrills and action near the caliber of a Tony Scott film to round out this political drama, Executive Order is an emotionally charged, Portugues-language film that shows the dangers of persistent racial inequality and how government administration is often used as a strong arm in pushing systems of racial inequality forward.
Adrienne Reese is a fan of movies - the good, the bad, and the ugly - and came to the horror genre by way of getting over her fear of... everything. Adrienne also writes for the Frida Cinema, and in addition to film enjoys cooking, Minesweeper, and binge-watching Game of Thrones.