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The Order of Myths Reviews

Ostensibly about Mobile, Alabama's annual Mardi Gras tradition, which dates back to 1703 – 15 years before New Orleans was established as a city -- Margaret Brown's documentary is actually an examination of the racial divide in a city that claims there is none. Brown's focus is the 2007 celebration or, more to her point, celebrations: Mobiles African-American and Caucasian communities. Like New Orleans, Mobile's "mystic societies" give balls, choose a Mardi Gras king and queen, build elaborate floats and sew elaborate costumes before taking to the streets on "fat Tuesday," the final blow-out before a month of Lenten fasting commences. In 2007, the black king and queen are school teachers Joseph Roberson and Stefannie Lucas, while the white king and queen are Max Bruckmann and Helen Meaher – both descended from old Mobile money; Meaher's ancestors include slave traders. During the months leading up to Mardi Gras, Brown follows both sets of royalty as they prepare for the big day, along with their courts and the craftspeople who design and make their elaborate clothes. Both communities are deeply committed to Mardi Gras traditions, but while Bruckmann, Meaher and their friends are quick to say they have many black friends – who generally turn out the be the nannies who raised them or other household employee – and claim they'd love to see an integrated Mardi Gras but the African-American community wants to have its own, Roberson, Lucas and their friends paint a different picture. From where they stand Mardi Gras is the last bastion of Southern segregation, a tradition that needs to be swept onto history's dust heap. And in 2007, Bruckmann, Meaher, Roberson and Lucas take the first small steps into the future: Each couple attends the other's coronation ball. Brown's avoids sensationalism and refrains from taking potshots at easy targets, though she gives certain people enough rope to hang themselves – a loaded but all-too appropriate metaphor when talking about a city whose last lynching took place in 1981.