Family Affair: Peering In on Another Screwed-up Clan


The latest entry in the increasingly popular “meet my fucked-up relatives” documentary subgenre, Chico Colvard’s Family Affair spotlights a clan whose dysfunction makes Precious Jones’s household look like The Brady Bunch. A black Vietnam vet and himself an incest victim, Chico’s father instituted a reign of physical- and sexual-abuse-laden terror over his Kentucky home throughout the ’70s, leading indirectly to the then-10-year-old director shooting one sister in the leg and another sister later succumbing to paranoid schizophrenia. In an effort to understand his past actions and his sisters’ present-day decision to maintain a relationship with the father who repeatedly raped them, Colvard turns the camera on himself, his siblings, and, finally, his old man, whom he lets off easy by spoon-feeding him an excuse (the pressures of racial prejudice) for his actions. Still, Family Affair delves with fascination, if insufficient depth, into the psychology of victimhood, probing the tendency of the abused (represented by the director’s sisters) to rationalize for their abusers. But while Colvard’s film is always queasily watchable, as with other voyeuristic entertainments that insist on making the private public, there’s the sense that such matters may be better dealt with in-house—or in a courtroom—than writ large on a movie screen.