The War on Drugs initiative which began sometime in the early 1970s, has since become one of the most costly and dangerous political policies of the American system. With an annual cost estimated at over fifty billion dollars annually, the program has been heavily criticized for it’s criminalization of non-violent crime and it’s budgetary abuses that could easily be siphoned into social programs that could more effectively combat issues of addiction and drug dependency.
Released in 2007, American Drug War is a documentary directed by Kevin Booth, who tries to examine why exactly the program has been such a monumental failure. Made over the course of over three years, Booth reveals the many layers and perspectives informing the war on drugs. Following a wide range of perspectives including gang members, former DEA agents, CIA officers judges, politicians, prisoners and celebrities, the film seeks to examine the many social echoes this war has inspired within the United States and beyond.
This is not a pro-drug movie but rather a film that seeks to understand and dismantle the institution of the drug war. Booth’s filmmaking does not offer easy conclusions or answers but at the very least, demonstrates that the system as it currently works is broken. Causing more casualties than it prevents, while fueling the military-industrial complex, the film seeks to answer who exactly is benefiting from the system and why it is being kept alive. The war on drugs resonates through so many different aspects of life that it becomes difficult to untangle how far it reaches in other public institutions. The film is dense and beautifully integrates talking head interviews with archival material and more expressionistic filmmaking techniques. While focused on the war on drugs, the film becomes a strong portrait of social inequality in the United States as well as a symptom of greater failures of justice within the current system: as capital impulses supersede humanistic ones, it is democracy and citizenship that fails.