The Florida Project, Sean Baker’s new feature, focuses on the day to day lives of an impoverished living in Miami, Florida. The location that Baker chose to focus on says a lot – the family that the film primarily follows, six-year-old Mooney and her mother Halley, live right on the brink of Disneyworld. A capitalist utopia, child geared to the extreme, lies just beyond the reach of Mooney and her cohort. The closest that they get to Disney World is watching the nighttime fireworks display from behind the park. Now, I am a pretty big fan of Disney – I love almost every movie Disney has released, and have celebrated more than a few birthdays in Disneyland myself. Presently, a framed map of Disneyland hangs above my bed. All this is to say that I completely understand the appeal of the park – the marketing for it is absolutely amazing, and being there can feel like a dream come true.

However, in The Florida Project, Baker seems unable or unwilling to draw the connection with Disney’s reliance on, and compliance with, the capitalist machine to the poverty that Rooney faces. This simple lack of reflection causes The Florida Project to lose a fair amount of its bite. Baker appears to be interested in aestheticizing poverty – the film is gorgeous, and the normally tacky purples of the motel where the characters live are decontextualized as the palette of childhood dreams—and serving up this aesthetic to a festival audience – but it lacks any real social imperative or import. As I was watching the film, surrounded by upper-class residents of Tucson, I wondered what service the film was doing. In what way is Baker giving back to or supporting the community whose daily struggles he is depicting? Is it enough for an artist to simply leave it there – at depiction? In cases like this, and Slumdog Millionaire, I can’t help but feel like they should go one step further.

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