Taken by surprise by a massive influx of Somali refugees, the town of Lewiston, Maine, responded first with open-armed acceptance and then with thinly veiled loathing as fears grew that the new neighbors were bleeding the local economy dry. The tension boiled over when Mayor Larry "Nobody Loves" Raymond drafted a letter imploring the Somalis to encourage their friends and relatives to stay the hell away; that bone-headed move put Lewiston on the national radar, spurring racist kingpins to rally to the aid of locals who feared, in the words of one delightful interviewee, "the negative impact that diversity brings." Filmmaker Ziad Hamzeh's documentary allows slavering bigots and slicker-tongued hypocrites alike to speak for themselves, thus exposing the essential interdependence of over-the-counter racism and its institutionalized, more soundbite-savvy variation. The film moves relentlessly toward a climactic confrontation between xenophobic and pro-diversity forces. But a dreaded day of simultaneous rallies passes without incident, placating our peacenik desires while frustrating the heck out of our learned movie-watching expectations. It's highly embarrassing to admit you were disappointed by the lack of a race riot, yet The Letter almost makes you do it.
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