Nine years ago, at the height of the Bush-Gore election season, in a town 93 miles outside Austin, Texas, a task force swept through a housing project to purge the community of drugs. On that hot November day, 26 African Americans were rounded up, cuffed, and thrown behind bars, including a now-famous woman, Regina Kelly.
The feature-length film American Violet is based on the true events of Kelly’s confrontation with the “good ol’ boy” justice system in Hearne, Texas. The 24-year-old African-American single mother of four—whose name has been changed in the film to Dee Roberts—is charged with drug dealing after the bust, and she must weigh taking a plea bargain and becoming a convicted felon or fighting the police institution that has bullied her neighborhood since she was a child.
With her daughters’ custody and her safety on the line, Roberts (played by Nicole Beharie) begins her battle with the district attorney (played by Michael O’Keefe). After rejecting the offered plea of 10 years probation, Roberts sues the district attorney and the Hearne police department for racial discrimination. They attack her with renewed vengeance, reminding her in every way that enemies made in Hearne are enemies for life.
Roberts fights back with calculated cunning and a fierce drive earned through years of swimming upstream. Accompanied by her mother (played by Alfre Woodard), her dogged local attorney (Will Patton), and her American Civil Liberties Union lawyer (Tim Blake Nelson), Roberts risks her family’s future to revolutionize the Texas criminal justice system.