Lalee’s Kin: The Legacy of Cotton
Susan Froemke, Deborah Dickson, Albert Maysles, Sheila Nevins, Douglas Graves, Albert Maysles, Gary Lucas
Many of us only think of Mississippi when annual reports state that it has some of the lowest school test scores in the country. Going deep into the South and even deeper into the problem, LaLee’s Kin: The Legacy of Cotton is a penetrating expose of the state’s poverty and illiteracy and their heart-wrenching interdependence. It follows a Delta school district and a single Delta family as they struggle against the crippling effects of poverty in the wake of more than 100 years of slavery. Inspirational school superintendent Reggie Barnes lays out the fact: “We get kids in kindergarten who don’t know their names. We get kids in kindergarten who don’t know colors. We get kids in kindergarten that have never been read to.” This is not surprising, we learn, as most of the parents can’t read either. Barnes fights to break a catch-22; industry won’t come to Tallahatchie County because of the poor school system, and it is that very lack of industry that perpetuates the poverty.
The brilliance of this film is its poignant portrait of the Wallace clan as they barely eke out an existence under family matriarch LaLee, a formidable woman whose drive for survival is evident whether she’s hauling water from the spigot at the local jail or putting food on the table for a trailer full of “grands” and “great-grands.” Inspired and dedicated directors Susan Froemke, Deborah Dickson, and master documentarian Albert Maysles tell this story free of judgment and condescension.