The Neutral Ground

The Lost Cause has long been a topic of interest here at First Draft. Shapiro wrote about it last Friday and it was a staple of my posting when the New Orleans monuments controversy was at its peak.

It’s back on my mind after watching CJ Hunt’s fine POV documentary, The Neutral Ground; so much so that I created a category for Lost Cause posts in case y’all feel like reading them. I had fun doing so last night. I’m not sure if that’s pathetic or egomaniacal. You decide.

CJ Hunt works for The Daily Show as a field producer. I haven’t seen much of his previous work but here’s his LinkedIn blurb:

Comedian and filmmaker living in NYC. He’s a field producer for The Daily Show with Trevor Noah. He has been a staff writer for A&E’s Black and White, and a field producer for BET’s The Rundown with Robin Thede. CJ is a regular host of The Moth. Co-creator of Sunken City, an original series hailed as ‘the New Portlandia’ & featured on Indiewire’s list of web series that “could be the next ‘Broad City’.” CJ has rebranded the confederate flag for Jezebel, condensed the saga of school desegregation into a 3-page children’s book for FunnyOrDie, and created videos featured on Paper Magazine, Upworthy, Bustle, and Racialicious.

Hunt lived in New Orleans for a time, which inspired The Neutral Ground. His Daily Show background is evident in his approach to this material. There was a lot of absurdity surrounding the monuments controversy and a director who has done stand-up comedy is the right man for the job. He also does a good job as the film’s protagonist/presenter.

Watching The Neutral Ground reminded me of a funny story about the monuments flap. A friend, who has since died, was a howling liberal on every subject except the monuments. He belonged to one of those old New Orleans families who had been here since Bienville, the founder of the city. He got into a fight on my Facebook feed about monuments removal. The anti-monuments person called my late friend an “Uptown Garden District snob.”

His reply was classic, “Wrong. I’m a downtown Marigny snob.”

In either event, he was proud of being a snob.

Back to CJ Hunt’s documentary. Since I’m a New Orleanian, I’m going to focus on those aspects of the film although Hunt discusses monuments issues in the Commonwealth of Virginia. His side trip to Charlottesville during the infamous 2017 Lost Causer riot feels like a horror movie.

Hunt gets most things right about New Orleans, which is rare for a short-term resident. It shows that he did his homework. He even survived interviewing bombastic former mayor Mitch Landrieu and bombastic activist Malcolm Suber. I’m acquainted with Malcolm. He’s not one of my favorite people but he’s right on the monuments.

One of my favorite moments was when Hunt did the Civil War recreationist thing. He hung out with some hardcore Lost Causers one of whom is called Butterbean. I am not making this up. Initially, the bearded and bombastic Butterbean was impressed with Hunt’s open-mindedness, but his idea of reciprocity was going to Jazz Fest. Hunt didn’t tell Butterbean that his namesake isn’t served at the Fairgrounds.

I like Hunt’s serio-comic approach to the subject matter. It strikes the right tone. He also nailed the history of the white supremacy monuments in New Orleans and elsewhere.

I had some online dealings with a leading Lost Causer, which I wrote about at Bayou Brief in 2018:

The Forever Lee Circle beads were a cause celebre before the big parades rolled on Magazine, Napoleon, and St. Charles. I wrote a post about them for First Draft, Lost Cause Festers Do Mardi Gras.

I wound up in an endless wrangle with a Lost Causer whose story shifted every time he commented on the post or on Facebook. The only thing he was consistent about was that he didn’t like the nickname I gave him. Whatever, dude. You don’t get to pick your own nickname, so I’ll give you a new one, which you should be willing to own: Forever Lee Circle Dude.

The Forever Lee Circle beads were made to protest the toppling of the monument to Robert E. Lee. To his apologists, Lee was a gentleman and hero of the lost cause. As far as I’m concerned, he was a traitor and a brutal slave owner with no ties to New Orleans.

Here are the beads in question:

Speaking of egomania, how about that self-quote, which included a link to the post wherein I scrapped with said Lost Causer.

Astonishingly, after taking office, bombastic current mayor Latoya Cantrell placed that bombastic Lost Causer on a monuments relocation committee. I am not making this up.

I’m omitting the bombastic Lost Causer’s name because I’m sure he gets Google alerts, and I don’t feel like dealing with his shit again.

The word of the day seems to be bombastic.

I would be negligent if I didn’t mention CJ Hunt’s hilarious scenes with his bombastic father. Thanks for sharing, CJ.

The Neutral Ground was finished before real life events provided it with a great ending. They should consider adding a coda that tells the world that Jefferson Davis Parkway has been re-named for the former president of Xavier University, Norman C Francis. Xavier is a HBCU and Francis a distinguished New Orleanian. Jefferson Davis’ main tie to the city is that he died here. I am not making this up.

Here’s a before and after image of the street signs:

That’s my kind of urban renewal.

The Neutral Ground is a well-written, thoughtful, and frequently funny film. One of my favorite moments was when CJ Hunt described the former Jefferson Davis statue as “waving hello to the joggers.”

It’s time for me to say goodbye by grading the film. I give The Neutral Ground 3 1/2 stars and an Adrastos Grade of B+. I plan to revisit it sometime soon.

The last word goes to the trailer: