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"Ghosts of Sugar Land" Review

While scrolling around for something to watch, the missus and I decided to finally watch the Netflix documentary short Ghosts of Sugar Land due to its intriguing trailer and premise and because it was only 21 minutes long.

Sugar Land is a suburb of Houston where a black guy referred to as "Mark" hung out with a group of Muslim friends in high school. Since the area was predominantly white, Asian, and Hispanic, he was one of the few black kids in his high school. He would ask them about Islam and they'd teach him some prayers and advise him as best as they could. Eventually he would convert to Islam and rapidly became radical, culminating with him traveling to Turkey and going over the border into Syria to join ISIS.

Basically an oral history from his former cohort, the hook of this documentary, as stated by one participant, is that they don't have to wear masks for what THEY did, but because of what HE did, and to that end everyone wears superhero and videogame character masks and when photos of "Mark" and the speakers are shown, matching mask photos disguise them. It's a cute variation on the usual "interviewed in shadowy silhouette with voice pitch-shifted like Laurie Anderson" method of anonymizing interviewees.

Despite being shorter than a half-hour commercial television show, Ghosts of Sugar Land still feels too long and not particularly insightful. While the friends speculate as to whether "Mark" was an FBI mole, there's nothing to support this conjecture; it just feels better than acknowledging in a post-9/11 world that there are radical Muslims and it's not just "Islamophobia" raising concerns about radicalism. A postscript reveals news learned about "Mark" (including revealing his real name) after filming had been done, but his final fate isn't detailed.

Score: 5/10. Catch it on Netflix.


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