When Crime Comes Full Circle

Filmmaker reflects on impact of 1997 robbery

(Photo Left) Filmmaker Darius Clark Monroe. Photo by Sarah J. Glover.

Bravo for Darius Clark Monroe and his documentary, “Evolution of a Criminal.”

The praise is not just for the film, which was screened earlier this month at the African American Museum in Philadelphia, 7th and Arch Streets, but also for the issue with which it deals, atonement.

All too often, we throw away criminals in our society, sometimes without them truly knowing the impact of their actions on the victims, or even their own loved ones. So they never know the two-sided healing that forgiveness brings.

Following the screening, the filmmaker, a large but approachable man dressed casually in denim jeans and shirt with a t-shirt underneath, expounded on the movie’s themes during a Q&A for the audience of art lovers, film buffs, community activists and anti-violence advocates.

The film, currently available on Netflix, was shown in partnership with the BlackStar Film Festival, and presented in conjunction with the exhibit, “Arresting Patterns: Perspectives on Race, Criminal Justice, Artistic Expression, and Community,” The exhibit, presented in collaboration with Artspace, runs through Sept. 11.

“Evolution of a Criminal” fit perfectly as a brief complement to the exhibit of photography, paintings, multimedia and prints by contemporary American artists such as Dread Scott, Titus Kaphur, Andy Warhol, and Adrian Piper.

“Their work gives voice to the impact of pervasive patterns of racial bias in our judicial system, giving visual form to the notion that the sentencing policies over the past 40 years have transformed the nation’s prison system into a ‘modern equivalent of Jim Crow,’” states the museum’s website.

Monroe’s film consists of vivid and suspenseful reenactments of a 1997 Texas bank robbery juxtaposed with the honest and emotional recollections of people affected by the crime. It’s a quickly understood shock that the filmmaker himself was one of the perpetrators of the crime!

Family members, friends and others knew Monroe, who scored good grades in school and had no criminal record, as a happy supported child. They speak on the events and situations that led to his deciding to solve his family’s unexpected and persistent financial woes by robbing a bank — a decision that forever changed the arc of his life.

The moving images and expressions open the viewer up to the fear, weariness, disbelief, bewilderment and heartbreak that resulted from the robbery, as well as the subsequent five years which Monroe served in prison. Monroe crafted his film over the course of seven years, which included his time at New York University’s film school, and time spent under the tutelage of Spike Lee, who executive produced the film. He reflected on the PBS.org blog, “Independent Lens” on viewing the film: “Every scene where I’m interacting with or interviewing one of the customers in the bank [victims] moves me. I’m still incredibly humbled and truly blown away by their kindness, their compassion, and generosity. It took a lot to ask for forgiveness, but I never expected to be forgiven. Those scenes show the resilience of the human spirit. I’m left feeling hopeful each time I experience them.”


 When Crime Comes Full Circle
Sheila Simmons - Contributor

Sheila Simmons brings many years of writing and communications experience to her work for Liberty City Press. She began her professional writing career at the Philadelphia Daily News, where she covered Business, City Hall and Education.


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