Jun 22, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Van Jones documentary on prison reform to screen at AFI Docs

CNN commentator Van Jones talks on the phone in his apartment in front of skyscappers.
Van Jones in the documentary "The First Step." Photo: Courtesy of Brandon Kramer

A documentary following CNN commentator Van Jones' journey to see prison reform passed under President Trump (and the backlash he faced) is set to screen at the American Film Institute Docs Film Festival.

The big picture: "The First Step" chronicles the advocacy of progressive-leaning Jones as he seeks to work with the Trump administration under intense criticism from allies.

Details: Directed by Brandon Kramer, the film is scheduled to be screened Wednesday at the AFI DOCS Festival in Washington, D.C., and can be watched online until June 27.

  • The film shows Jones bringing Black activists from South Central Los Angeles together with white people in West Virginia as they discuss ways to battle the opioid crisis.
  • It also highlights the commentator's attempts to get a compromise bill on prison reform through a divided Congress and to Trump's desk.
  • During his fight, Jones endured harsh criticism from some Black advocates for agreeing to work with Trump officials on a bill while conservative activists called Jones a Communist at public events.

Following the film, Axios' Russell Contreras will host a panel discussion with Jones and activists about their roles in battling the opioid crisis and fighting for prison reform.

The intrigue: Jones, a former Obama official who supports progressive causes, has publicly chided the orthodoxy of "wokeness" that he believes prevents coalition-building and runs from debates and engagement.

  • It's similar to the critique from some Latino intellectuals who call young, well-meaning activists misguided "wokosos" (combining the term "woke" with the Spanish word "mocosos" — snot-nosed brats).

Don't forget: The First Step Act reduced some sentences and gave judges more sentencing flexibility.

  • The bill led to the release of at least 3,000 inmates by the end of 2019, according to NBC News.
  • Trump later told people he regretted following some of son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner's political advice on criminal justice reform, three people with direct knowledge of the president's thinking told Axios' Jonathan Swan.
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