American Chain Gang | Chicago Reader

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Xackery Irving's 1998 documentary looks at the chain gang, a form of prison labor instituted after the Civil War, abolished in the 1960s for its inhumanity, but revived in the mid-90s as a punishment for repeat offenders. Interviews with inmates, guards, sheriffs, and civil rights advocates are intercut with footage of a male chain gang in Alabama and a female gang in Arizona. Irving aims for a balanced view of what one official calls the “alternative thinking unit,” but the subject cries out for an in-depth exploration of cultural politics; this well-photographed talkfest is like an episode of Cops without the shock value. 56 min.

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