God Save Texas

God save texas
God Save Texas
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What do you think about when you hear the word Texan? Probably, it’s the American cowboy that comes to your mind. It is a tough, white man on horseback who loves oil and will only give up his gun when dead. Whereas, thanks to an inflow of white right-wing stars and influencers in search of lower taxes and less regulation, your concept of a modern individual in Texas would bear no resemblance to the cowboy of yesteryear but rather might be one who thrives on survival-of-the-fittest philosophy who cannot take his hard-earned money being used for what he feels are personally distasteful laws. However, these images represent true Texas or simply fantasies created by influential individuals and systems dominating the state since time indefinite.

Apparently this is the central question addressed by HBO’s trilogy of documentaries God Save Texas: Who is a Texan? What does real Texas look like? Based on his identically titled book, Lawrence Wright who happens to be both producer and Pulitzer winning author has sought out three native Texas film makers Richard Linklater Alex Stapleton Iliana Sosa to talk about their experiences on what they know before unveiling how they think it should have been. The directors visited their birth places so as to explore the state’s systems and industries while trying to rediscover those stories that were either lost or left behind.

“Hometown Prison” is directed by Richard Linklater; this forms part of the trilogy with seven other parts where all are actual towns based on prison locations which come from books by Horton Foote including 1918. The year 2003 opened for murder case outside Huntsville Unit in Huntsville city which threatened Delma Banks Jr at 43 with execution against claims that he never committed any crime whereas many more had gathered outside hoping for a miracle.

Whether a death row inmate will get clemency as he final minutes count down remains unknown even though there was convincing evidence that he was innocent. This will be the 300th execution in this prison since the death sentence was reestablished in 1982, and a young Richard Linklater is there to capture the moment.

Then we leap ahead with time to a present day Linklater who will lead us through Huntsville, his home town and its dark secret at its core. Whether it’s acknowledged or not, TDCJ influences everything and everyone in Huntsville.

Linklater brings this out clearly by getting comments from old friends, other members of the community as well as prison employees themselves who talk about their experiences while serving behind bars at different times of their life. In doing so, we are able to see how much justice means to this diverse population that has been imprisoned by a system that cares more about pursuing convictions and being seen as tough than about anything else. Rather than focusing on reforming or abolishing such practice may result into catastrophic consequences for those people suffering most from it since it mostly incarcerates minorities among whom are young persons.

In the second of the “Price of Oil” series by Alex Stapleton, she is dealing with her native Houston. One thing that Alex wants to remind her audience at the beginning is, Texas has the highest population of both free and enslaved blacks in America; thus it seeks to unravel where are the black stories when referring to Texas or when talking about oil?

Like Linklater, however, Stapleton begins with her own family and friends as a way of exploring this question; unlike Linklater though, She reminds us that popular history often omits mentioning contributions of some people especially African Americans who were slaves in their pasts. The help from her mother reveals that she too was not aware of much about those who worked for her ancestors without record.

The next destination for this film would be Pleasantville – a district in Houston – which was one among only a few communities where Black servicemen could purchase real estate right after Second World War (Note: GI Bill had many promises but majority Black Americans still could not buy houses ever). On top of oil industries expanding into their lives and lands since the community’s golden age days it has bounded onto them physically as well. It’s worse than you think though because guess what?—this hazardous business has been preserved exclusively for one race (guess who?), leaving out Houston’s black neighborhoods.

Iliana Sosa directs God Save Texas’ third and final film named La Frontera which takes place on US-Mexico border in El Paso-Juarez area. There are some places along this desert landscape where no person can see any visible border fence between United States and Mexico while other points show its grotesque enlargement beyond those who used to cross its path every day. In interviews with relatives and other community members Iliana Sosa brings out an intimate feel for reality at or rather just near Mexican-US boundary line marked by fluidity in identity against vast economic disparities between two cities.

The central focus of this narrative is on Duranguito, where El Paso originated from and the current battleground between gentrification and conservation. Supporters of a proposed sports arena which will displace residents in Duranguito maintain that it will provide prosperity to the neighborhood’s people while activists spoken to by Sosa understand that such developments erase history and allows its horrors to happen all over again. The most expected but still an epicenter for Sosa’s documentary was the increased anti-immigrant violence culminating in 2019 El Paso Shooting as fostered by Donald Trump among others.

Though less obvious than the colossal statue of him at I-45 freeway in Huntsville, Sam Houston continues to dominate God Save Texas. Houston, former president of Texas Republic and name giver for its largest city, is shown as a kind of heroic figure. In fact, he resisted Texan allegiance with confederacy up till very end. However, what this story leaves out is an extremely complicated history which often underlies some historical villains or heroes.

Every person has a story to tell with some being told by parents, others through grandparents and still others are tales about the places where we grew up. God Save Texas talks around Houston’s history, comfortably (and rightfully) bemoaning atrocities like the Indian Removal Act and challenging narratives around Texas’ fight for independence from Mexico without acknowledging the General’s role in them. These stories are not meant to be exclusive to any one group but can be enjoyed by anyone who has ever lived somewhere else or wanted something more in life than what they were given at birth.

In putting Sam Houston on this pedestal, God Save Texas misses the opportunity to recognize his nuance and threatens to encourage the kind of hero worship that forgets true history in place of a valorized narrative. But almost nothing could hide God Save Texas’ idealization of Sam Houston as a historical icon which makes it almost impossible for readers interested in understanding him beyond a simple hero worship perspective. Admittedly, though these great people were not perfect, and they did make mistakes or even have some “bad eggs” among them whom God Save Texas does not take into account.

And if we can’t recognize that these historical heroes were not perfect, that they did make mistakes or even had some truly heinous beliefs, then how can we hope to reckon with our own complicated legacies? However if we cannot acknowledge imperfections of these historical characters such as making errors or having perhaps very bad judgment regarding specific things – so how can we possibly expect ourselves to come into terms with our past?

In their movies Stapleton and Sosa contribute moments of slavery and San Jacinto that connect back to Sam Houston; nonetheless they do not make this connection explicitly. To be fair however their documentaries last only an hour compared to Linklater’s much longer 90 minutes there would have been room for more nuanced discussion on this one poignant aspect of Texan history had time permitted. Yet again there might have been some other hidden objective in their writings about where they grew up and their respective families. Notably, it is unclear why God Save Texas does not afford equal screen time to the directors’ stories no matter how it would appear.

From an outsider’s perspective, it can be easy to get caught up in what we think Texas is: God-fearing, gun-loving, and, above all else, white. To a certain degree this has motivated “liberals” to celebrate the struggles of this state as though such ordeals are a form of punishment for its conservative legislation. What God Save Texas does, then, is reveal the true Texans, a diverse population that faces the horrific results of that legislature head-on. By putting these filmmakers back into their original site we obtain an intense look at the people living there and fighting hard to ensure Texas remains just as wonderful as they were told.

In watching these filmmakers reckon with the good and bad of their familial homes, viewers from around the country can themselves go through a personal reckoning between their news-bound version of Texas and the lived realities of its underserved populations. Another point on this matter is that Texas isn’t limited to being either just a bastion for conservatives or lost cause for civil rights activists; but rather it boasts being home to many residents with varied political beliefs characteristic of those held by Americans in general.

While God Save Texas isn’t likely to sway those on the far right entrenched in their beliefs, it is narratively and emotionally powerful enough to draw more centrist and left-leaning audiences to an understanding of a shared national struggle through the people fighting on the ideological and physical front lines. Although there are stronger arguments are many in favor of voting against any change (Hegedus 214), however others argue that even if changes like removing Sam Houston’s statue will not solve everything overnight they should be made anyways (Stapleton 83).

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