5 takeaways from Van Jones’ ‘The First Step’ Tribeca documentary
'The First Step documentary' recently premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival, centering Jones as he leverages his reputation to help pass criminal justice reform.
Van Jones’ The First Step documentary recently premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival, centering the political commentator as he leverages his reputation to help pass criminal justice reform.
The First Step chronicles Jones, a progressive political commentator for CNN, creating an unholy alliance between the Trump administration, lawmakers, celebrities, and activists to help with the passage of the criminal justice reform bill, 2018’s First Step Act. The film opens up with Jones expressing that the election of Donald Trump as president is a “whitelash” against former President Barack Obama.
Still, Jones is ready to work with Trump, his son-in-law Jared Kushner and wary conservatives to bring about change. He’s often flanked by human rights attorney Jessica Jackson and formerly incarcerated community organizer Louis L. Reed as Jones weaves between the partisan divides to bring momentum to the initiative.
Conservatives have long been wary of Jones but now liberals are critiquing his efforts. They do not view working with Trump, especially in a polarized climate, justifies the end.
Vice President Kamala Harris, Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, Sen. Bernie Sanders, Sen. Cory Booker, Sen. Rand Paul, Sen. Mike Lee, Black Lives Matter co-founder Patrisse Cullors, Kim Kardashian and Charlamagne Tha God, and more appear in the doc.
Here are 5 takeaways from the 86 minute long The First Step:
No good deed…
Jones centers himself in The First Step as his good intentions being weaponized by both the left and the right. Jones has long been viewed with suspicion by conservatives for his liberal views and is now being called out by progressives for his overtures to Trump and Kushner.
Jones wants to work with anyone who wants to help criminal reform become a reality but laments being called a “c**n,” “Uncle Tom” and “sellout.” He’s accused of legitimizing Trump and his harsh rhetoric.
Trump’s brand power
Jones leans on Kushner to help get Trump on board with the criminal justice reform bill. Jones is well aware of the power of Trump’s brand to help court Republicans. Sen. Mitch McConnell and Sen. Tom Cotton are resistant to easing re-entry to life for those who are incarcerated.
Trump ran as a law and order candidate and gets second thoughts during the documentary. The bill then stalls.
Kardashian to the rescue
Jones turns to the Keeping up with the Kardashians star to help influence Trump’s opinion. The reality TV star is studying to become a lawyer and has taken up the cause of criminal justice reform. She is meant to appeal to Trump’s draw of celebrity.
Like Jones, she is ready to forsake her reputation if it means she can help one life.
The First Step showcases the formerly incarcerated and those who have been addicted to drugs telling their own stories rather than the narrative being set through second-hand accounts. One of the more poignant ones is that of Louis L. Reed who spent nearly 14 years in federal prison and several years on supervision.
Reed is now the is the director of organizing and partnerships for Dream Corps JUSTICE. He makes it clear that he wants others to get the second chance he’s been afforded.
First Act passed
The bill passed 87-12 with bipartisan support and Trump subsequently signed it into law in December 2018. The measure curbs mandatory sentences, reduces sentencing for those who undergo rehabilitative programs, and encourages compassionate release for the elderly.
According to the documentary, 10,000 people have since been released from federal prison.
The First Step can be screened virtually at the Tribeca Film Festival through June 15.
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