Criminal Justice • African American • Race and Ethnicity • Trauma • Youth + Education
2014. Director Darius Clark Monroe.
83 Minutes. Transcript Available.

 

What does a criminal look like to you? For too many in America it's unquestioningly a Black man. In the award-winning documentary EVOLUTION OF A CRIMINAL, Darius Clark Monroe turns the camera on himself in order to present a more accurate image of one African American man against the backdrop of this country’s ongoing criminalization of his peers. Now a graduate of NYU Film School, Monroe Clark crafts an intricate and emotionally complex narrative of his own trajectory from straight-A student to bank robber, while ultimately reflecting on the racial and economic factors that surround his crime as he searches for answers and seeks forgiveness.

 

One afternoon in the mid-1990s, a 16-year old Darius donned a skeleton mask and, along with two accomplices, robbed a Bank of America in Stafford, Texas. Concerned for his mother’s welfare and devastated by the escalating financial crisis his family faced after being robbed themselves, Darius believed $30,000 would ease his family’s burden. Instead, soon after the crime, he is arrested and sentenced to five years in prison. Years after he is released, Darius returns to his old neighborhood to make amends with family and friends, along with classmates, teachers, law enforcement officials and most importantly the innocent victims in the bank on the fateful day of the robbery. EVOLUTION OF A CRIMINAL seamlessly integrates reenactments of Darius’s crime with evocative interviews of all those impacted by his actions. As the film progresses, we learn more of the cycle of poverty and imprisonment his family and community has faced for generations. And yet, despite the systemic racism that contributed to Darius’s actions, he does not seek pity, but rather forgiveness and understanding. Some of those affected by Darius’s crime are hesitant to offer absolution, while others freely do so.  At the same time, viewers are asked to consider their willingness to take another look, and examine their own prejudices and assumptions. While too many Black men remain voiceless and tragic statistics, in the retelling of his story, this powerful filmmaker manages to present a deeply honest portrait of his own profound evolution as a human being.

AWARDS
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EVOLUTION OF A CRIMINAL

One Black man's journey from straight-A student to bank robber and back

The New York Times

Reviewed by Jeannette Catsoulis

"Constructed with an unvarnished simplicity that — perhaps deliberately — bolsters our impression of guilelessness, Mr. Monroe’s tale unfolds primarily through the eyes of a parade of witnesses, most of them family members. Not one of these would have believed Mr. Monroe’s 16-year-old self capable of executing the 1997 bank robbery that would send him to prison for five years. Instead, they recall “a warm child” with excellent grades whose sensitivity to his mother’s deepening financial difficulties radically transformed both his personality and his future."

The New Yorker

Reviewed by Richard Brody

"Its images, its shape, its tone, and its implications make it a terrific movie, as well as the birth of an artist."

Pedro A. Noguera, Ph.D., Peter L. Agnew, Professor of Education, Steinhardt School of Culture, Education and Development, Executive Director, Metropolitan Center for Research on Equity and the Transformation of Schools (New York University)

"A powerful and insightful examination of the factors that led a young man to commit a violent crime. Evolution of a Criminal will help viewers to understand why so many young people make bad choices. It also reminds us that redemption is possible."

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