God’s Country (2022)
To say that God’s Country is a departure for Thandiwe (formerly known as Thandie) Newton is an understatement. It is not that she hasn’t thrived on diverse roles. The beautiful and talented, British mixed-race actress came to prominence in the late 1990’s starring in period pieces like Jefferson in Paris (1995) in which she played the enslaved woman Sally Hemings and action movies like Mission Impossible II (2000). But this one is something else. God’s Country opens with Newton, as Prof. Sandra Guidry, a former New Orleans police detective now teaching writing courses at a rural college campus in a desolate winter landscape. She doesn’t quite fit in, be it with her starkly white departmental colleagues or the menacing white local hunters. It’s not that she can’t take care of herself. Scenes of her running on icy roads at night with her trusty dog or chopping wood telegraph that this is not the case. But she is living in a chalet all alone in the middle of nowhere after the death of her mother (the opening scene is Guidry watching the paper coffin being rolled into the incineration chamber for her recently deceased mother’s cremation). Grieving? Most definitely! Weakened? Absolutely not. Indeed, the fire of the cremation chamber could be read as symbolic of the one also ignited in her by injustice, be it the inappropriate sexual advances of the white male department chair towards an Indigenous female student assistant or the persistent trespassing of white hunters on her property. But these hunters are not just uncouth. They are flat-out menacing and outright violent. And when Guidry calls the local sheriff’s office to intervene, we get the impression that the white officer is just as afraid of the locals as Guidry should be. But is she? Don’t bet on it. God’s Country has a surprising ending, as we see Guidry respond after being pushed to her breaking point by the terrorist actions of her “neighbours”. Let’s just say, she handles shit.