A Crime on the Bayou
A Black teenager is arrested for touching a white boys arm! The unjustly arrested Black man and his young Jewish attorney take the case to the Supreme Court to fight for the right of all Americans to a fair trial.
Directed by Nancy Buirski
Produced by Nancy Buirski, Susan Margolin, Claire L. Chandler
Executive Producers: Regina K. Scully, John Legend, Mike Jackson, Ty Stiklorius, Austin Biggers, Geralyn Dreyfous, Harlene Freezer, Jules Horowitz, Felicia Horowitz, Brenda Robinson, Mark Trustin, Jamie Wolf
Editor: Anthony Ripoli
Director of Photography: Rex Miller
Archival Producer: Hannah Shepard
Music Supervisor: Doug Bernheim
Writer: Nancy Buirski
Inspired by "Deep Delta Justice" by Matthew Van Meter
A Production of Augusta Films LLC in assocation with Get Lifted Film Co, and Artemis Rising Foundation
A Crime on the Bayou is the story of Gary Duncan, a Black teenager from Plaquemines Parish, a swampy strip of land south of New Orleans.
"Show[s] how even bureaucratic aspects of the legal system in the Deep South in the 1960s could be weaponized against Black Americans." New York Times
In 1966, Duncan tries to break up an argument between white and Black teenagers outside a newly integrated school, in the course of which he dares to gently lay a hand on a white boy's arm. That night, police burst into Duncan's trailer and arrest him for assault on a minor.
A young Jewish attorney, Richard Sobol, leaves his prestigious D.C. firm to volunteer in New Orleans. With his help, Duncan bravely stands up to a racist legal system powered by a white supremacist boss to challenge his unfair arrest. Their fight goes all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, and their lifelong friendship is forged.
Written and directed by Nancy Buirski A Crime on the Bayou is the final film in her acclaimed trilogy profiling brave individuals who fought for justice in and around the Civil Rights era. The other films are The Loving Story and The Rape of Recy Taylor.
Grade Level: 10 - 12, College, Adults
US Release Date: 2021
Copyright Date: 2020
DVD ISBN: 1-948745-72-0
"Every American should watch this riveting portrayal of the breadth and depth of racial injustice in the Deep South of the 1960s. The 'crime' committed on the bayou was nothing more nor less than the demand for equal rights for all. This documentary exposes the ferocity and longevity of white resistance to Black civil rights, the moral bankruptcy of powerful southern officials, and the unbending determination of those who put their lives on the line to fulfill our nation's aspiration of equal rights before the law."
Jane Dailey, Professor of American History, University of Chicago, Author, White Fright: The Sexual Panic at the Heart of America's Racist History
"A Crime on the Bayou illustrates why good character is as critical to developing good law as good lawyering skills. But for the good character of Gary Duncan, the wrongfully accused African American man whose courage and morals gave him the strength he needed to challenge a corrupt Louisiana governor and justice system, and the good character of Richard Sobol, the New York Attorney whose passion for justice gave him the fortitude to zealously defend Duncan and fight for his freedom, we would not have Duncan v. Louisiana, a U.S. Supreme Court decision which holds that the Sixth Amendment's right to a jury trial also applies to states. This film reminds us that law schools have as much responsibility to teach students good character as they do legal doctrine and writing."
Angela Onwuachi-Willig, Dean and Professor of Law, Boston University, Author, Critical Race Judgments: Rewritten US Court Opinions on Race and the Law (forthcoming)
"The very best documentary films breathe new life into forgotten or neglected aspects of the American experience. A Crime on the Bayou invites viewers to reconsider school desegregation battles in the civil rights era South. In this astonishing story, viewers meet a young Black man whose modest effort to intervene in a heated discussion nearly cost him his freedom, and even his life. It's a sobering reminder that to understand school desegregation as an essential feature of Black civil rights history we must look beyond the famous confrontations between white mobs and Black students to carefully consider the innumerable acts of bravery by everyday people who stood up for what they believed in, even when nobody was watching."
Zoe Burkholder, Professor of Educational Foundations, Director of the Holocaust, Genocide, and Human Rights Education Project, Montclair State University, Author, An African American Dilemma: A History of School Integration and Civil
Rights in the North
"Buirski's A Crime on the Bayou is a gripping story out of an often forgotten corner of the United States, Louisiana's Plaquemines Parish. Vintage footage, contemporary interviews, and a lush, jazzy score combine to give us a vivid glimpse of a long-ago crime and a decades-long fight for justice. I found it poetic and also sharp in its condemnation of prejudice and injustice. Highly recommend."
Robin Kirk, Co-Director of Duke Human Rights Center, Professor of Cultural Anthropology, Duke University
"A truly excellent film. The story - told in the compelling voice of Duncan himself - weaves together the everyday reality that 'anything can happen to you' in the Jim Crow South, the capricious nature of state violence, the authoritarian regime of Leander Perez and the risks taken by a few Jewish lawyers who were willing to take on civil rights cases in the deep South. This moving, highly informative and extremely well told narrative would be excellent for courses on the history of civil rights, social justice movements, legal history, African American history, and the history of the U.S. South."
Rachel Devlin, Professor of History, Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, Author, A Girl Stands at the Door: The Generation of Young Women who Desegregated America's Schools
"Among the many high points of A Crime on the Bayou is its portrayal of the courage of the lawyers who took it upon themselves to defend the rights of Black Americans in an environment of hate and violence directed against them as well as their clients. Much of the desegregation we have come to take for granted would never have happened but for those lawyers who risked their lives for the cause of justice."
Geoffrey Stone, Edward H. Levi Distinguished Service Professor of Law, University of Chicago, Author, Democracy and Equality: The Enduring Constitutional Vision of the Warren Court
"Vivid...Provide[s] an unusually palpable sense of just how much deeply-ingrained institutional and cultural bias needed to be overcome for the civil rights movement to make real headway...[An] engrossing, flavorful document."
Dennis Harvey, Variety
"A Crime on the Bayou never explodes with fury. But that doesn't mean you won't feel enraged while taking in the maddening series of systematic wrongs committed against Sobol and Duncan."
Robert Daniels, The Los Angeles Times
"Thoughtful and illuminating...Shines a light on a groundbreaking piece of recent American history that will be news to many viewers."
Sheri Linden, The Hollywood Reporter
"Filmmaker Nancy Buirski has an elegant, judicious way of imparting the facts of the case, taking not just the political temperature of the moment (boiling) but finely sketching the character and minds of the people involved. 4 out of 4 stars."
Steven Boone, Roger Ebert
"Buirski follows the case with cogency and clarity, illuminating its implications and putting it in the perspective of Black and white alliances in the struggle for Civil Rights."
Peter Keough, The Boston Globe
"It has a potent idea, which is to show how even bureaucratic aspects of the legal system in the Deep South in the 1960s could be weaponized against Black Americans."
Ben Kenigsberg, New York Times
"Must-see...A Crime on the Bayou focuses on an incident that happened in 1966 but is, infuriatingly, still timely and relevant more than half a century later."
Lois Alter Mark, Alliance of Women Film Journalists
"Buirski has assembled an impressive set of historical sources but allows the story to unfold so naturally that it feels as if it were being told for the first time...The issues at the heart of this film remain very much alive today."
Jennie Kermode, Eye for Film
"The film sharply illustrates the pervasive character of systemic racism that allows one person to use his position in society to tangle another in a web that can trap him for a lifetime."
Pat Mullen, POV Magazine
"Tells a powerful, important story, the reverberations of which still linger."
Jeffrey M. Anderson, Common Sense Media
"Essential...An urgent, exceptionally well told chronicle of an important but often forgotten moment in American history."
Sean Patrick, Vocal
"Topical and gripping...Given current events, rarely has a film felt so essential."
Mike Scott, Times-Picayune
"Very well-made...An essential piece to think about the United States of America - how it was and why it is like it is today."
Letícia Magalhaes, Cine Suffragette
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Awards and Festivals
Nominated for Best Documentary Feature & Best Historical or Biographical Documentary, Critics Choice Association
DOC NYC World Premiere
New Orleans Film Festival
Big Sky Documentary Film Festival
Hamptons Doc Fest
Atlanta Jewish Film Festival
Miami Jewish Film Festival
Pan African Film Festival
Silicon Valley Jewish Film Festival
Citizenship and Civics
Race and Racism
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"If you want to look at this national conversation about systemic racism, this is a nice demonstration of where it manifests."
Kevin Carr, Fat Guys at the Movies
"Documentarian Nancy Buirski deploys a delicate cinematic elegance to tell Duncan's tale."
MaryAnn Johanson, Flick Filosopher
"Eloquently draws out the heroism of ordinary extraordinary Americans...5 out of 5 stars."
Thelma Adams, AARP
"I strongly recommend A Crime on the Bayou...The story it tells is about a key moment in the fight against Jim Crow, and it tells it well."
Louis Proyect, The Unrepentant Marxist
"A good, straightforward documentary."
Peter Rainer, FilmWeek
"True and disturbing...Shocking...A Crime on the Bayou shines a light on race relations in the U.S....It's a story about persistence and vigilance in the face of the uglier side of humanity."
Peter Martin, Screen Anarchy
"Incredible story...A real life head-on collision between good and evil."
David Ferguson, Red Carpet Crash
"Fascinating...A very different documentary on race and hate in the 1960s. Normally, we are shown stories of illegal incarceration, pain and suffering...Could we have here a story of the carriage of justice?"
Robin Clifford, Reeling Reviews
"Does a good job in balancing the legal, the political and the personal in the telling of its story."
Peter Canavese, Celluloid Dreams
"The modern day comparisons are clear and Duncan and Sobol's quest for justice - no matter what threats they faced - is utterly inspiring."
Mary Palmer, Jumpcut Online
"The documentary...serves as a wake-up call: the time of Jim Crow really isn't that far in the past."
Kent Turner, Film-Forward
"A powerful, important story...The movie's message of tolerance is righteously clear, and sadly timely."
Jeffrey M. Anderson, Combustible Celluloid
"Artful...This is another overlooked chapter of great significance in US race relations, one that Buirski tells with an engrossing, flavorful mix of archival materials and testimony from the still-living protagonists themselves."
Dennis Harvey, 48 Hills