The Soul of America in a Movie

'Little Pink House' shows why property rights matter
September 11, 2018 Updated: September 13, 2018

What legalese conceals, a heart-wrenching film reveals. Not only does the 2017 film “Little Pink House” show why June 23, 2005, was a grave day in U.S. legal history, it humanizes the victims of this tragedy for the American dream.

The Supreme Court’s famous Kelo decision, which narrowly rejected an eminent-domain appeal, went against the deepest values of the American republic. As written by Ilya Somin of George Mason University in his book “The Grasping Hand,” “this case often cut across conventional ideological divisions,” since private property is “a central part of the American constitutional tradition and of our political culture.”

Susette Kelo and her neighbors in the Fort Trumbull neighborhood of New London, Connecticut, resisted an encroachment on their homes by politicians and “economic development” cronies. Their valiant fight was to no avail, and their properties were seized. The fact that the development project never came to be, with feral cats now living in the area, rubs salt into the wound of injustice.  The nonexistent development also underlines why purported economic benefits, imagined from on high, are insufficient grounds for violating one’s right to property.

The story was begging to be turned into a feature film.

Spirit on the Big Screen

Thanks to a 2009 book by Jeff Benedict, also called “Little Pink House,” and subsequent directing by Courtney Balaker, the wait is over. After an extended showing in mostly independent theaters, the 99-minute film based on a true story is now available to a wider audience.

I had the good fortune of watching this David-versus-Goliath film in a San Diego theater, and it pulled at one’s heartstrings, to say the least. Why this film did not garner media attention over the past year isn’t clear. Like fine wine, though, it will age well and become a cult classic.

It touched me and other viewers because it gives a voice to the America so many of us love: the overlooked salt-of-the-earth people who care about and help each other. For example, Kelo (played by Catherine Keener) was an emergency medical technician, and “Little Pink House” showed this kind, humble woman fighting in a peaceful manner for what she believed in: the right to keep one’s own home.

Not only did she and her fellow community members support one another through roughly six years of intimidation and harassment, they received pro bono legal representation from the Institute for Justice. Countless generous Americans, through this self-described “national law firm for liberty,” contributed $1 million toward the case of Kelo and the six other plaintiffs—a sum beyond the means of any of the victims.

Why This Film Works

Many filmmakers attempt to dramatize true-story underdog battles and make them understandable and appealing to a wider audience; few do so successfully. “Little Pink House” does that and more, and with a message that resonates with the American entrepreneurial spirit.

What makes this film stand out, ironically, is its lack of spectacle. Instead of big Hollywood names and theatrics, the cast and production team deliver a gritty, tight film that conveys the story with warts-and-all honesty and precision. The story speaks for itself, without a need for partisan tweaking or hidden agendas.

Many Americans will relate to the early-2000s plot and the themes; you could find similar stories throughout the country. What made this one stand out was that the Supreme Court gave it a hearing. For example, Jeanne Tripplehorn plays the academic go-between for a criminal politician and Pfizer Inc. This story isn’t only true, it is painfully familiar to all of us. Tripplehorn acts it out precisely, repeating the political buzzwords we have heard too many times before.

A Moral Victory

In the aftermath, polling showed that more than 80 percent of Americans opposed the Kelo decision. They get it: The poor and politically weak shouldn’t be subject to takings when the explicit motive is simply higher tax revenues.

Anyone can see that these revenues don’t constitute “public use,” as stipulated by the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The “economic development” argument also leads to the awkward conclusion, admitted by the City of New London’s attorney in the case, that a Motel 6 could be taken from its rightful owner merely to be turned into a Ritz-Carlton.

The widespread opposition to eminent domain is instinctive and foundational to Americans, on a level with free speech. The instinctive reaction is one reason why two-thirds of states passed their own protections against eminent domain, although voters were rarely informed enough to ensure the protections had teeth.

The filmmakers must have been wary of this, since they didn’t get lost in the weeds. Kelo, in the film, must explain herself, and she readily admits that she is no legal scholar. She is appealing to the morality of the American people and their constitutional tradition.

Fortunately, that noble spirit and tradition coincides with economic reality. Whether in the United States, Canada, or China, property rights are foundational to a free and prosperous society. Despite rhetoric to the contrary, the Kelo story makes the case that these rights not only bring prosperity, they are a protection for the most vulnerable among us who lack political influence.

The few clips drawn from the Kelo herself, as opposed to dramatization, drive home that point: There are real victims of eminent domain, and they are those who most deserve our protection and support.

Fergus Hodgson is the founder and executive editor of Latin American intelligence publication Antigua Report.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.

Fergus Hodgson is the founder and executive editor of Latin American intelligence publication Econ Americas. He is also the roving editor of Gold Newsletter and a research associate with the Frontier Centre for Public Policy.