The First Step: Building Walls, Broken System

Sometimes, the best of intentions aren?t good enough to please people.

Directed by Brandon Kramer, The First Step follows media personality Van Jones as he attempts to work with the Trump administration to pass a landmark bill on prison reform. Despite the nobility of his intentions to help prison inmates grab hold of a better future, Jones finds himself under attack from everyone, including the general public who remain enraged by a toxic administration.

Amazingly, Kramer keeps his film fairly balanced in his storytelling. Whereas many films of this sort tend to lean to either side of the political aisle, Kramer ensures that The First Step keeps its focus on Jones? journey, as opposed to any particular policy. What?s clear from the outset though is that Jones? simply wants to create healthier prison reform, regardless of who is in power. To Jones, the end justifies the means and Kramer focuses his First Step on accomplishing that goal.

Of course, the most heartbreaking aspect of First Step is how difficult it seems to be for the two main sides of American political system to work together. Despite his political differences with them, Jones continues his efforts to work with the Trump administration in order to enact change. However, First Step shows that that toxicity extends far beyond the political aisle. Instead, much of the hatred that he receives comes from online as the average person fires back. Of course, while agendas can always complicate these sorts of efforts, but the public?s relationship with the Trump administration was something different. Because of Trump?s toxic flaws, many people believed that any reasonable discourse with them resulted in a form of support for his actions.

Essentially, the stance became ?if you?re with them, you?re against us.?

Nevertheless, without ever supporting their actions, Jones continued to see the value in partnering with the government to create federal change. Trump may not have been ?his president?? but Jones still recognized that he was the president. But somewhat ironically, for the general public, this seemed to make Jones complicit (and, maybe, even supportive) of Trump and his policies. 

In this way, First Step calls into question the relationship between political agendas and grace for humanity. Is it possible for people to disagree on major issues but still partner together for a common good? Or does any association with those who have proven toxic mean that their sins are being ignored (or even forgiven)? Admittedly, the answers to these questions seem to only have become more complicated in recent years. One never wants to support wrongdoing? but where is the line? In First Step, Jones finds himself caught in the crossfire from both people who disagree with his initiatives and those who despise him working with the other side.

As a result of these conversations, there?s an urgency to The First Step that steps beyond a single landmark bill. Instead, Kramer highlights the venomous nature of a culture that has lost the ability to speak with one another. Whether it?s fear of supporting injustice or simply hurt and rage, the US has lost its ability to discuss important matters with those whom they disagree.

But that?s also what makes it so important to be the one to take The First Step.

The First Step is available in theatres on Friday, February 17, 2023.

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