The United States has the largest incarcerated population in the world, yet it is easy to forget about prisoners and their lives before and outside of prison. We usually do not think about these lives that our made invisible to us, hidden away in cells, and how prison steals possible futures of them and their loved ones. Directed by Ava DuVernay, Middle of Nowhere poignantly reminds audiences of the humanity that is not always shown in stories about prison.
Starring Emayatzy Corinealdi, David Oyelowo, and Omari Hardwick, the movie follows a young wife, Ruby (Corinealdi), who is struggling to keep in touch with her husband, Derek (Hardwick), who is locked up in prison for 8 years on a non-violent felony conviction. From the start, we see how Derek’s prison sentence is already affecting Ruby; she has decided not to go to medical school and to take only night shifts at the hospital so she can stay home during the day to receive Derek’s phone calls. She puts her future on hold in the hopes that he will be out in four years for good behavior.
Besides her two-hours bus rides to visit Derek and the phone calls, Derek is a haunting presence in Ruby’s life overall, which is shown in several scenes. Memories of their good times open to a couple of scenes of him magically appearing by her side, conjured up by Ruby’s yearning to be with Derek. The lighting in the film convey well the shadows of Derek hovering over Ruby’s life; the film feels gloomy and heavy.
But shocking news at Derek’s parole hearing turns Ruby’s strange stability for the past few years into a tailspin and into the arms of bus driver, Brian (Oyewolo). Her relationship with Brian takes her on a journey back to herself and opens her eyes to the reality of her life with Derek. The end with Ruby’s letter to Derek reveals not a fairytale ending but how complicated her relationships are because of all the possible choices she has now (now / here) and the possible futures she could have. “We are somewhere in the middle, between the forgotten and the foreseen…the past is gone and the future doesn’t exist until we get there.”
It a quietly strong and reflective film with touching performances from the entire cast. Even the supporting characters, like Ruth (Lorraine Toussaint), Ruby’s mother, and Rosie (Edwina Findley), her sister, satisfyingly help shape the film. Although I felt that the strained mother-daughter(s) relationship, a theme that was in DuVernay’s last film, I Will Follow, may not have been necessary or could have been fleshed out more, it does give some background to Ruby’s character. Importantly, the film, Middle of Nowhere, highlights the part of the world of prison life that we often do not get to see — the loved ones on the outside who are still connected to them.
Besides seeing the film, another way to support it is to sign the petition on Take Part to end the high cost rates of prison phone calls.