REVIEW: Viola Davis’ “irresponsible” new movie “Custody” gives Black parents a black eye, #FamilyCourtSoWhite launched

Viola Davis missed an opportunity to tell the truth about family court in new movie, "Custody" that was screened at Tribeca Film Festival( – Good grief. Can we give the tired stereotypes that Black people are dangerous and shouldn’t be parents a break? With the aftermath of #OscarsSoWhite controversy over the lack of Black actors in Hollywood, Viola Davis‘ been a busy woman. But, unlike some actors who only get called when a Black face is needed, Davis is a stellar actress who deserves just about every role that she gets. Until “Custody” made its debut at Tribeca Film Festival.

“Custody” is a movie which has sparked the hashtag: #FamilyCourtSoWhite because in New York City, family court is as much a court based on race as it is on secrecy. Jewish families get their own court. Asians get their own court. Native Americans have federal protections to allow them to control what happens to their children. What’s left are the most vulnerable people who most likely cannot afford attorneys and are already deemed “to fit the profile” by society so few people are willing to question or defend.


“Custody” is one role that she shouldn’t have taken or at least fought to have more say about. The movie is rift with errors and mistruths that it is actually irresponsible.

There are Black actors in the entire movie – although the children are biracial – but the racial stereotypes and undertones become a character in the movie. There is a scary, hulking, bald headed Black man who appears on screen in an orange jumpsuit and handcuffs at a custody trial. Another is a creepy cameo of a child ghost – one of hundreds of children who like 4-year-old MYLS DOBSON are murdered, die or are raped in New York City’s failed child welfare agency, Administration for Children’s Services known as ACS. After Myls’ sexual mutaliation and violent murder, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio actually SKIPPED his funeral, rescinded his promises to pass “Myls’ Law,” and failed to “reform ACS’ Family Support Unit.” To this day, his name is not allowed to be spoken in NYC government because outrage about his death was so intense after the public found out the case workers pretended to have visited the child nine times only to find out later his dad was actually in jail the entire time.

Foster Care Pimps - Viola Davis' new movie, Custody about child welfare In real life, the agency has a $3 billion budget with a healthy annual surplus. It’s responsible for just 11,000 foster children but it’s budget is nearly TWICE the budget of the U.S. Secret Service. That’s more than $300,000 per child but ACS spends just $29,000 a year per child, according to ACS Commission Gladys Carrion’s May 2015 testimony for the 2016 budget. A whopping 70% of the budget is spent protecting its cash cow: Foster Care not strengtening families.

Many children – nearly all Black and Latino – die in ACS’ custody when caseworkers pretend to make visits, harass good parents and wrongly remove children or the city places the children in the homes of sex offenders. ACS is due back before the NYC City Council in May 2016 for the 2017 budget.

Sexual Predators Love New York City ACS

In New York City, felons can adopt a child just five years after their conviction. Pedophiles can have sex with life-size, life-like child sex dolls because it’s legal to do so. That’s huge considering that some 60% of all calls to ACS are false and unfounded yet the allegations stay on the parent’s record until the child is 28 years old. This is done to prevent grandparents who were victims of false allegations from being able to adopt their own children.

Viola Davis’ ACS agency cares deeply for the children its responsible for, so much so that Davis’ character – a family court judge – raised her own child who becomes a pot smoking teen while she becomes an alcoholic on screen – and maybe while on the bench. The court appointed attorneys for the accused Children are failed every day by New York City's child welfare agency, ACSparents are so concerned about their clients that they take client phone calls at 3 a.m., drive their personal cars across state lines and are willing to “flirt” with ACS attorneys for favors for their clients.

“One Family. One Judge.” ACS ignores its own policy.

If Viola Davis’ ACS judge portrayal were accurate, she would have been replaced a couple of times by new judges. Although ACS’ own policy is “One Family. One Judge.” it rarely upholds it own policies. In real life, one Manhattan Family Court parent whose child, Josee, sparked a national debate on child welfare says her current attorney calls from a blocked number and refuses to give her an appointment time. There have been five judges and a referee in the case, hardly a recipe for achieving due process.

ACS admits that cases that have more than one case planner – who is tasked with providing any support to the parents that are necessary like housing subsidies, housekeeping services, arranging for travel to court and court-ordered appointments – the odds of a child coming home are greatly reduced. In Josee’s case, there have been A DOZEN case planners on the case. A dozen!

There have been  Because Josee’s mom is a domestic violence victim and Josee was born preemie due to domestic violence, answering a private number is more than dangerous. Another attorney assigned to her case but ultimately removed, routinely told Josee’s mom “I’m not your secretary” when asked to file motions or other tasks that he was paid to do. He even signed her signature on a document removing the case from a qualified judge and giving it to a referee.

“He didn’t even bother to trace my signature or photo copy it. He wrote it in his handwriting. It’s so blatant,” Josee’s mom said. The signature would be the most important development in the case as the referee made unethical decisions in the case including threatening to jail Josee’s mother if she spoke to her attorney more than once per week. If Josee’s mom complained, the referee would restrict visits with the child.

There’s clearly two different ACS agencies: The one that may have funded the movie and the real one that was recently scolded in an April 2016 city government report for its near crime level “mistakes.”

Any parent watching Viola Davis’ ACS would choose hers over the real agency anyday. That’s because in Viola Davis’ ACS,  judges that actually read the cases, despite the repeated script “slip up” that reveals just about the only true things about family court: ACS attorneys surpress evidence, do not provide discovery, routinely blindside judges and counsel for the children and parents with “new information that just came in moments ago.” Instead of giving an adjournment, Davis’ ACS and family court experience shows so much compassion for children and their parents that they turn the other way when a mom throws the microphone, cusses out the judge, admits to having anger issues, tests positive for PCP and weed and even kidnaps her own children from the foster home where they are staying. In Davis’ court, the mother doesn’t have to submit to multiple mental health evaluations, take never-ending parenting classes or even go to drug rehab, despite her attitude that is thinly vailed to portray a very ghetto single Black mom character, even though she is Latina.

lawsuit - letitia james sued NYC ACSThe entire “drama” was wrapped up in a tidy 90 days that ends in the mother chastising the judge in a way that any accused parent – especially a Black one – would have been thrown in jail for.  In real life, it takes three to five months to get a hearing in Manhattan Family Court, most parents can only see their children for two hours a week, and sometimes less.

Federal Class Action Lawsuit against ACS

New York City’s ACS is so embattled that a federal class action lawsuit was filed against them by the New York City Public Advocate, sparked by the tragic story that has become the #BringJoseeHome campaign. New York City’s ACS leads the nation in keeping children in foster care for FIFTY FOUR MONTHS on average – a whopping four and a half years – which is TWICE the national average.

According to a June 2015 scathing report by WNYC public radio, Black mothers are four times more likely to have their children taken for petty, poverty and/or other issues that could be solved in ninety days with social services. In New York City, foster children have a 1% chance of going to college. They cannot get apartments even once they age out of the system because their identities are stolen by foster families, their own families when placed in kinship care and by ACS case workers themselves. A large percent of the foster children in New York end up homeless and over medicated with drugs they don’t need but the foster families find it easier to medicate them than to rehabilitate them from the trauma of being legally kidnapped.Children are failed daily by NYC ACS including Josee

NYC Court Threatens Mother with Jail for Talking to Court Ordered Attorney

In Davis’ ACS, the judges are compassionate, choose their words as to not offend and apologize to parents if they offend them. In real life, New York City’s judges and referee like Susan Doherty – the embattled referee who issued an order to have Josee’s mother incarcerated if she spoke to her court-appointed attorney more than once per week or filed any motions on her own behalf – make fun of the parents, treat them poorly and seem to enjoy terrorizing them, as transcripts from case point out.

What could have – and should have – been Viola Davis’ version of “Spotlight” and a chance for an Oscar nod, became a public relations spin job – possibly funded by ACS itself – to portray judges, family court attorneys and social workers as over worked, under paid, caring people who only want what’s best for the children. What could have been a chance to be the voice for dead children like Myls Dobson, Nixzmary Brown and others morphed into a lopsided, no-where-close version.  They are not at all interested in the fact that 65% of all foster care children in the entire state of New York are in New York City. They are unaware that foster care has become New York City’s cash cow.

Cinematically, the movie was beautifully done. If the story is the judge’s own story, okay. She had a right to tell it how she saw it but many will argue that the way she saw it is exactly the problem with New York City’s very broken, very damaging child welfare agency, ACS. Taxpayers are footing the $3 bilion bill under the false pretense of ACS keeping the children safe – or even alive – but ACS’ iron-clad fist on information has been challenged by dozens of media outlets, child and parent advocates and even lawyers themselves. Three billion dollars may not keep foster kids or vulnerable children alive but it sure does by a lot of favor in court rooms.



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