Us Vs. Them: A Review of “Delta Justice: The Islenos Trappers War”

A New Orleans Film Festival 2015 / Made in Louisiana Feature

It never ceases to amaze me when I hear of small but effectively resonant victories of the working class against the powers that be. Outside of court houses, in the world where they dominate in sheer numbers. All the slick words and all the shuffling of papers stand no match against a ticked off population.

Especially a ticked off population of gun owners.

Delta Justice is a documentary / dramatization of the events prior to, during and well after what is known as The Islenos Trappers War. A small community occupying and living off the land in St. Bernard Parish (near New Orleans), trapping muskrats for fur production. Much money was made, and more potentially to be had. Of course, exploitation of the fiery kind would rear its head, resulting in equally fiery vigilantism.

It’s a tale of greed, of right and wrong, of culture, of the past and even the present. It’s a movie where sides are chosen not just by the subjects interviewed, but by the filmmakers interviewing. It’s a presentation where facts are faded through memory, but begging to come out and be told.

Nothing is Past

The Islenos Trappers War, how it came to be and its results, distills modern day class warfare into simpler terms and notions. Challenging who we are and what we are capable of, Delta Justice never lets you forget that the struggle continues. Between the haves and the have nots. And there’s an awful lot of have nots.

By 1926, the one and only Perez family, lead in this case by Leander, had wrestled control over trapping land from the families of its original settlers: The Islenos Fur Trappers. The irony of the situation is not lost on me — that the wealthy purchasers of fur, dependent on the trappers for product, would rock the boat and monopolize what was a workable scenario. Discontent with not being rich enough, I suppose.

When the courts proved ineffective, the Islenos took matters into their own hands, and formed a rebellion of sorts against the deputized thugs, out of town trappers and Leander himself. They grabbed their pitchforks (guns, actually) and reclaimed what was theirs. There’s a part of me that can’t agree with such drastic actions, but there is something finite and just about these black and white virtues of morality. Something that feels appropriate.

And yet, is it only appropriate if white Americans are doing it? Chew on that for a while.

It’s one thing to empathize with what you are documenting, it’s another to pass judgment — good or bad. Delta Justice is entirely on the side of the Islenos, with complete domination of the storytelling by their descendants. It’s claimed that no one knows “who fired the first shots” in the turning point gun fight, but the movie has to show someone pulling the trigger. And its the Islenos that are shown doing it.

Do the filmmakers have a specific philosophy to share? Is this wrong for a documentary? To not only identify with your subject but become one with them? Does this fall under propaganda?

Perhaps it’s just righteous. Perhaps that is ok. Perhaps we must take one side over another.

Delta Justice gives a surprisingly liberal testimony despite delivering some very conservative reactions. But it never feels like a contradiction. There are primal ideals for what is and isn’t right, and the movie relies on these without exploiting our own.

In the final shot of a muskrat bathing itself, sitting on a rock, we get a chance to think on things and collect our thoughts. History is seen through the eyes of the victors, but what did The Islenos ultimately win? What have we won? What of the means when the ends are no longer in your favor? Can we overcome the odds? Ever? It’s an uphill battle that people are willing to fight. People on both sides.

Rating — ***1/2

It’s a fascinating slice out of time, dealing in past events with heavy implications for today. Where it lacks in design and grit, it makes up for with answers and anecdotes. Some are agreeable, some are questionable, all ring true.

Independent film critic. Progressive po’ boy, moviegoing romantic. SEFCA member, 🍅 - approved. Newsletter at moviesdm.substack.com

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store