Documentary examines troubled past with Confederate statues

Perplexed by America's controversial relationship with Confederate monuments,"The Daily Show" team member CJ Hunt saw potential for what he thought would make a fascinating short movie.

Documentary examines troubled past with Confederate statues

However, not long after starting the project, he realized that a much bigger story was showing itself and it turned out"The Neutral Ground," a feature-length documentary which premiered Saturday at the Tribeca Film Festival and will open July 5 on PBS.

The serious, yet humorous, documentary examines the Lost Cause, the campaign that mythicized the Confederacy after the Civil War and continues the narrative that the conflict was about freedom than the right to own slaves.

Hunt said Southern secession documents clearly place captivity as the main reason for the division. But after the Civil War, the film points out that a successful propaganda campaign shifted the cause from being about owning individuals as land into state's rights and patriotism.

A reluctance to really read primary source documents about historical events perpetuates the myth,"Sadly, our idea of history is actually just like stories that were handed to us," he explained.

That idea drove Hunt to delve deeper to understand the division between those that think monuments should be removed, and others who need them to remain to preserve background.

The idea for the film began in 2015 when Hunt was residing in New Orleans. The city council voted to remove four monuments from public areas but was thwarted because work crews believed their lives endangered.

The momentum shifted last year after a summer of protests and unrest over social justice, and there was"a strong consensus to challenge these monuments in public areas," he said.

Before joining the cast of"The Daily Show with Trevor Noah," Hunt said he watched correspondents like Roy Wood Jr. to learn how to report on a section with the right balance of humor and information.

"Peppered within this doc is CJ's curiosity and inherent controversy," said Wood, who serves as executive producer on the movie. "He did a great job letting the story to be thick, while still being light and amusing occasionally."

In 1 segment, Hunt shows the peculiar placement of a statue of Black tennis icon Arthur Ashe on Monument Avenue in Richmond, Virginia, a strip commemorating people who fought for the Confederacy.

The film questions the concept of adding Ashe among the slaveholders for"inclusion" purposes.

"We're not likely to create the Confederacy better by adding a contextual plaque by adding a Dark tennis player nearby," Hunt said. "None of these are good. None of these makes sense."

Last year four statues were removed from Monument Avenue, including one of Confederate leader Jefferson Davis, following civil unrest.

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