Beyond Ed Buck


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Beyond Ed Buck
"Beyond Ed Buck will make many viewers uncomfortable, as it should, and will make for distressing viewing for others, but it’s an important watch." | Photo: Courtesy of Inside Out

In 2017 and 2019, Gemmel Moore and Timothy Dean, two young African American men, were found in the home of wealthy white businessman and Democratic Party donor Ed Buck, where they had apparently died as a result of overdosing on methamphetamine (aka crystal meth). Initially, no charges were brought in either case, even though, by the time of the second death, a significant amount of evidence had accumulated to the effect that Buck had a history of picking up men like them, drugging them, and then sexually assaulting them whilst they were unconscious or unable to move. It took a months-long campaign by local people to persuade law enforcement to take action. Some of those protests are covered in this film. Buck would eventually be sentenced to 30 years in prison, but what he did was just one illustration of a much wider-reaching problem.

Why did it take so long to bring Buck to justice? Why were the lives of these young men valued so little? In a heartbreaking interview, Gemmel’s mother testifies that her son told her he was afraid of Buck. If that makes it hard to understand why he would go to his house, it’s important to recognise the economic disparities at play in such relationships. West Hollywood is full of young black men who, thanks to the impact of discrimination in education and employment, together with the housing crisis, struggle to make enough to keep food in their bellies or roofs over their heads, and that’s before one factors in addiction, which is all too common when drugs provide relief from despair. A sum which is trivial to a man like Buck can be sufficient to persuade someone to take risks.

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This documentary assumes that its viewers may not understand these issues, and explains them patiently, yet with enough substance to remain interesting to those who do. It also explores issues around the fetishisation of African American bodies which go right back to slavery. These are particularly acute for black trans women, who made up the majority of the 375 people murdered for being trans in the US in 2021, as they find themselves at the intersection of multiple forms of prejudice. As they face even higher rates of discrimination in the job market, many are forced into sex work, increasing their vulnerability.

The second part of this film explores the case of Brian Powers, known as Egypt when in femme mode, a genderfluid person who was another victim of murder, this time in Ohio. His sister Vivian talks at length here about their relationship, the way he embraced his identity and how much happiness it brought him. She strives to reclaim him from dehumanising stereotypes and explain how much he mattered to those who knew him, whilst elsewhere the film takes a more provocative stance, arguing that black lesbian, gay and bisexual people are not showing up for black trans people the way they should.

Screening at 2022’s Inside Out, Beyond Ed Buck will make many viewers uncomfortable, as it should, and will make for distressing viewing for others, but it’s an important watch. The final few minutes present positive, first hand stories from trans people of colour, who talk about overcoming addiction, finding employment, and succeeding in establishing safer, happier lives for themselves. It’s an attempt to remind viewers of what’s possible, but the bulk of the film makes it clear that in terms of addressing the underlying system issues, there is a long way to go.

Reviewed on: 06 Jun 2022
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A documentary which follows the tragic murders that took place at the hands of a well-known Democratic political donor.

Director: Jayce Baron, Hailie Sahar

Writer: Jayce Baron, Hailie Sahar

Starring: Hailie Sahar, DeMarco Majors, George M Johnson, Kalyn Rivers, Gregory Canillas

Year: 2022

Runtime: 91 minutes

Country: US


IO 2022

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