Rats and Racism

(Above: ‘Rat Film.’ Source: YouTube screenshot)

In Rat Film, director Theo Anthony explores his home city of Baltimore’s rat problem and its connection to racial segregation, redlining (the practice of discriminatory lending), and environmental racism.

The documentary, debuting on PBS’ Independent Lens this Monday, February 26, begins with Harold Edmond, an exterminator who goes “house to house in Baltimore’s rat-plagued neighborhoods.” What starts “as an examination of our interactions with rats,” soon becomes an exploration of “the systemic racism that established the low-income and predominantly black neighborhoods that are still plagued by rats today.”

In one sequence, 2015 city statistics are superimposed over old redlining maps, showing a “correlation to present-day urban issues and the neighborhoods formed decades ago.”

The film combines 3D animation and computer-generated imagery. It’s enhanced “with a score using rat-generated theremin” and the electronic music of Baltimore’s Dan Deacon.

“Theo’s documentary is a pinhole view that opens up, layer after layer, to encompass the story of poverty and race in America,” said Lois Vossen, executive producer for Independent Lens. “As one of the characters so aptly explains, ‘Ain’t never been a rat problem in Baltimore. Always been a people problem.'”

The film will air 10 pm ET Monday on PBS stations, but check your local listings.

You will be able to stream it free starting Tuesday, February 27, at Independent Lens.


About Larry Greenberg

A former local beat reporter and film critic, co-founder Lawrence Greenberg has more than 25 years’ experience as a writer and public relations executive.

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