Taking us from the turn of the millennium to the end of 2018, “17 Blocks” refers to the distance between the home of the film’s main family, the Sanfords, and the United States Capitol. The proximity between the seat of federal power in the United States and the predominantly black, working class to poor neighborhoods that predominated in the city of Washington, DC (at least until recently, when gentrification began to increase the white population and to evacuate blacks – which would also happen to the Sanfords). But it’s hard to think of another non-fictional element that portrays contrasts and ironies as clearly as this one. “17 Blocks” focuses on a mother, her children and her grandchildren. All are affected, directly or indirectly, by drug abuse (within the family and in the community in general) as well as by armed violence which is never far from the areas (of any demographic) where it occurs. street traffic.
The story begins in mid-August, with the family’s matriarch, Cheryl Sanford, visiting the house that belonged to her father and where she raised three children: her eldest Emmanuel, her second child “Smurf” and their younger sister. Denise. It is immediately apparent from Cheryl’s speech patterns, body language, and facial discolorations that she is a drug addict (we later learn that her drug of choice is cocaine, although it is not the only substance she abuses. ), and the first flashbacks (around 1999) reveal that she struggled with drug addiction all of her adult life. She blames herself for Smurf’s drug use as well as her decision to drop out of high school at age 15 and start selling. There is a lot of self-blame and self-flagellation in this story, all of which piled up sincerely and in great distress, but none of them ultimately mean much in the face of addiction and its damage. collateral that continues over the decades.
The documentary’s introductory scene and subsequent flash-forward hints set you up for the fact that something horrible is going to happen to the Sanfords. When that happens, it’s even worse than you anticipated. A brief footage of a family member cleaning up bloodstains – literally a mess they’ve been stuck in – is one of life’s most heart-breaking examples of giving someone a metaphor you’ll ever see.
This is all storytelling, of course; a magic trick done with images and sound. We know that in real life people have addiction issues; that it is perpetuated over generations, addiction being a genetic predisposition, not just an indicator of moral weakness or poor education; that sometimes tragedy visits people’s homes randomly, in shocking ways, without warning; and just because all these bad things happened to one family doesn’t mean it all was inescapable or “predicted”, much less that the family “deserved it” or “reaped what they got. sown, ”or that the survivors could. There will be a new path if they push hard enough and take a few breaks (which ultimately happens for the Sanfords, thank goodness even though it’s a long way).