We’ve all heard talk over the years of Texas seceding from the United States. But how would that actually go down in practice? The upcoming film Bushwick, which recently screened at the Sundance Film Festival, in Utah, imagines the chaos ensuing from such a move, and it looks like, well, a B-grade action flick: exploding apartment buildings, improbable dashes through heavy gunfire, and maimed appendages spurting blood across the screen.
Starring ex-professional wrestling champ Dave Bautista and Pitch Perfect alum Brittany Snow, Bushwick is a genre exercise destined for late-night cable, a schlock-fest full of kinetically choreographed tracking shots that never asks us to take its story—in which, for somewhat opaque reasons, Southern forces led by Texas invade Brooklyn—too seriously. But should we anyhow?
“It’s plausible that Texas would want to secede,” said Vivian Chan, a onetime Houstonian who was walking out of Bushwick’s closing-night Sundance screening, a boozy midnight event. “I think it could happen, with a lot of states banding together and Texas leading the charge.”
“I think what side she would be on is the question,” joked her male friend, a non-Texan. “She’s like, ‘Barbecue or freedom?’ ”
A young woman from Portland, Oregon, who, like many audience members, was reluctant to give her name to a reporter from a state she’d just watched blitzkrieg a coastal city, expressed similar sentiments. “I was watching it and thinking, ‘That could be something that’s not too far off.’ Obviously it’s dramatized, but that’s what the political sphere feels like right now.”
She wasn’t exaggerating. The Sundance screening took place on January 28, as the nation was convulsed by protests aimed at our new president. At a time when the fabric of America felt stretched and frayed, most audience members filtering out into the frosty night admitted at least a passing concern for the state of the union.
Melissa, a security professional from California who preferred not to give her last name, said she spent much of the screening trying to convince herself that Bushwick could be easily dismissed. “I was like, ‘Should I be taking this seriously? No, I should not be taking this seriously right now.’ ”
Her friend nodded. “It’s the general mood in the country I take seriously.”
Many on hand questioned whether they could take Bushwick’s specific plot points seriously. If Texas wanted to secede, they wondered, why would it invade a gentrifying neighborhood in Brooklyn? “I would think they’d maybe be fighting along their borders, not up in New York,” said one woman, who clarified that she might have missed something because she was tired and tipsy. “The whole thing didn’t make a lot of sense.”
Mehgan Wichuk, an audience member visiting from Houston, said she’d long ago learned to take Texas secession talk with a grain of salt. “I don’t think there are that many people in the state who really feel like we could survive independently. It’s kind of a holdover from the Old West. I think it’s just a crazy movie.”
Bushwick might have worked better a few years ago—when co-directors Jonathan Milott and Cary Murnion were first inspired by Rick Perry’s well-publicized musings about secession—than in Donald Trump’s America. At this moment, in fact, a secessionist movement is collecting signatures for a referendum not in Texas but in our traditional nemesis, California. “It seems like there may be less pressure on Texans now,” reflected a young filmgoer from the Golden State waiting for his Uber. “I feel like conservative areas of the country kind of got their way.”