director Margaret Brown
The Order of Myths is a truly remarkable documentary about the Mardi Gras celebration in Mobile, Alabama, the oldest such celebration in the United States, older by some fourteen years than the most famous one in New Orleans. The thing about this Mardi Gras, 2007 in Mobile is what a clarified snapshot it is of the history of race, slavery, and so much other social stratification that is almost stunning to behold in the 21st century.
Director Margaret Brown takes her title from the name of one of the oldest “msytic societies” that exist in Mobile, major organizers of the celebrations, parades, and hoopla. Of course, there is the whole other “order of myths” about the evolution of racism, of acceptance of an ongoing segregation that some still hold to be a desired situation for all.
The most stark aspect of this is captured in the fact that there has long been a “white” Mardi Gras, parade, and annual king and queen, as well as a “black” Mardi Gras, parade, and annual king and queen. And that contrast is heightened and highlighted by the particular contrast of the two queens for the year in question. The “white” queen descends from the man who chartered the very last slave ship in America, a man who defied the ruling against importing slaves, and had his ship burned and sunk when it turned out he could not profit on his illegal attempt to bring in African slaves. The “black” queen descends directly from slaves on that very slave ship.
The South is a complex place to understand. The nature of living racism on varied levels is so strange to comprehend and navigate. Brown highlights that the last man to be lynched in the United States was lynched here on a street in Mobile in 1982. There is a lingering adherence to legacies of terror and brutality that are deeply connected to the traditions of pride and character.
Yet both celebrations have their vibrances. And in the time of the film, the two kings and queens attend parties at the others’ Mardi Gras in ways that have never happened before. Is change occurring? Will these legacies cede way for some new form of celebration, so real evolution?
Only toward the end to Margaret Brown tell us that one of the elderstatesmen that she’s been interviewing is actually her own grandfather. It allows us to understand how she found her way to the material here, a tip of the hat, or wink, if you will.
What she’s got here is one of the deeper, more interesting documentaries that I’ve seen in a while. Remarkable.