OWNED: A TALE OF TWO AMERICAS
Dir. Giorgio Angelini
2018 | 83 min | USA | English | Documentary
The United States’ postwar housing policy created the world’s largest middle class. It also set America on two divergent paths -- one of imagined wealth, propped up by speculation and endless booms-and-busts, and the other in systematically defunded, segregated communities, where the American dream feels hopelessly out of reach.
Some ten years after the last housing collapse and well into a perceived upswing, the election of Donald Trump and urban uprisings in places like Baltimore suggest that there’s a far more fundamental problem with housing policy in America. And we haven’t even begun to recover.
Owned: A Tale of Two Americas is a incisive look into the dark history behind the US housing economy. Tracking its overtly racist beginnings to its unbridled commoditization, the doc exposes a foundational story few Americans understand as their own.
“Home ownership to me means freedom—strictly. The more and more I evaluate this world, the more and more I understand: when you don’t own anything, you are nothing.” That’s how Greg Butler, a young black house flipper, sums up his view of the American dream.
In 2008, the US housing market became the epicenter of an unprecedented global economic collapse. In the years since, protests in cities like Baltimore have highlighted the stark racial disparities that define many American cities. The crash of suburbia and urban unrest are not unrelated -- they are two sides of the same coin, two divergent paths set in motion by the United States’ post-war housing policy.
The prevailing narrative is that the migration from American cities that began in the 1950s, often referred to as “white flight,” was caused by the degradation of city centers and the growth of suburbia. But this was neither a matter of preference, nor a natural self-segregation.
After World War II, the US government sought to provide housing for returning veterans and their families, while enabling them to build wealth through homeownership. Postwar policies spurred a decades- long construction boom and enabled millions of Americans to buy homes -- and they benefited white people exclusively. So racial segregation determined how communities grew. Government policies directly subsidized white America, while denying opportunities to black people and other minorities.
Through the stories of a retired New York City cop, an eccentric Orange County realtor, and an aspiring real estate developer in Baltimore, Owned: A Tale of Two Americas explores the promise of postwar housing policies, the systematic oppression in America’s “Chocolate Cities,” and the communities they have created. The film suggests that ultimately, these communities have more in common than they might suspect.