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‘God Save Texas’ offers three homegrown views of life in the Lone Star State

By Brian Lowry, CNN

(CNN) — Wedding the deeply personal to the political, “God Save Texas” turns three filmmakers loose on their hometowns, using their memories and current realities to explore the justice system, race and environmentalism through the complex prism of the very conservative Lone Star State. With Lawrence Wright’s book as connective tissue, it’s a pointed look at what director Richard Linklater calls “hometowns and the American consciousness.”

Huntsville-raised Linklater has used Texas, and growing up there, as inspiration for some of his narrative movies, including his signature coming-of-age yarns “Dazed and Confused” and “Boyhood.” He’s joined here by documentarians Alex Stapleton and Iliana Sosa, who consider their conflicted feelings about Houston, and its oil legacy, and El Paso, a centerpiece of the immigration debate, respectively.

With Huntsville serving as home to seven prisons, Linklater features old home movies to illustrate his long concerns about the death penalty and “how the criminal justice system looms over my hometown,” citing the guys he grew up with who either ended up working at a prison or incarcerated in one.

Although Linklater brings the biggest name and longest film to the project (whose producers include the prolific Alex Gibney, who previously teamed with Wright on “Kingdom of Silence”), the most sobering or at least timely observations might be found in “La Frontera,” Sosa’s contemplation of life at the US-Mexican border.

Interviewing her immigrant parents, Sosa speaks of growing up feeling like “I lived between two worlds, and yet belonged to neither,” while Wright points to the lack of nuance in news coverage and the chasm between national headlines and those residing on the front line of the immigration issue.

“The further you get away from the border,” Wright tells Sosa, “the less you understand it.”

Stapleton’s “The Price of Oil,” meanwhile, explores Houston’s history of racial inequality, the lingering existence of “sundown towns” where Blacks are unwelcome, and the environmental impact of the reliance on fossil fuels. That includes an increase in climate-related disasters that, as sociologist Dr. Robert Bullard of Texas Southern University notes, “exacerbate inequality” by hitting the economically disadvantaged the hardest.

Taken in its totality, “God Save Texas” provides a sense of how people cling to the places they grew up even when their values depart from those of the current population, with Stapleton describing herself as “a Texan in exile” for two decades.

While the films obviously view Texas through progressive lenses, the approach isn’t one of condescension but rather seeking greater understanding. For those who watch with an open mind and in good faith, “God Save Texas” should help them understand it a little better, no matter how far they live from the border. One might even say it has the Wright stuff.

“God Save Texas” will air February 27 and 28 at 9 p.m. ET on HBO and will stream on Max, which, like CNN, is a unit of Warner Bros. Discovery.

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