DOASKDOTELL MOVIE REVIEWs of With All Deliberate Speed, Home of the Brave, For Us the Living: The Medgar Evers Story  (Ghosts of Mississippi, and Mississippi Burning), The Untold Story of Emmett Louis Till , Rosewood , Separate But Equal , Walkout , Walkabout , C.S.A.: The Confederate States of America, Amazing Grace, Banished, The Last Lynching, Meeting David Wilson, The Night James Brown Saved Boston, A Lesson Before Dying, Unchained Memories: Slave Narratives

 

Title:  With All Deliberate Speed

Release Date:  2004

Nationality and Language: USA, English

Running time: 103 Minutes

MPAA Rating: PG 

Distributor and Production Company:  CameraPlanet; Discovery Films

Director; Writer: Peter Gilbert

Producer:

Cast:  

Technical: HDCAM

Relevance to DOASKDOTELL site: affirmative action

Review:

 

“History ignored is history repeated.”

 

Peter Gilbert (Hoop Dreams) has put together a documentary of the school desegregation cases that led to Brown v. Board of Education (1954), followed by the supplementary ruling in 1955 that school desegregation should be pursued only “with all deliberate speed,” and oxymoron like “Allegro molto moderato.” The main cases were in Clarendon County, S.C. and Prince Edward county (Farmville) Va.  The resistance to the decision led Prince Edward county to close all of its public schools from 1959-1964.  In earlier times, the public education of African Americans in some southern counties had been intentionally relegated to areas like agriculture, to occupations that would continue a kind continued servitude. Schools for African Americans would be so substandard in terms of physical infrastructure as to be almost unusable. The issue of public school financing comes into play, too. In South Carolina, a school board had claimed that “blacks to pay enough property taxes to earn the right to use a school bus.”  The word that was commonly used that the time was “Negro,” but that is not particularly acceptable today.  What is clear is that centuries of slavery and segregation did put many of today’s African Americans farther behind in the starting line.

 

More interesting is the idea that people actually got fired from jobs from signing petitions supporting desegregation. That seems shocking today, where people express themselves on the Internet; yet I have said elsewhere on this site people in some publicly visible jobs cannot be vocal personally on controversial issues no matter how morally compelling the cause; one should quit first.

 

Further, loyalty to family and blood, so necessary to build a free society, could be turned around into prejudice against other groups, such as those who had once been slaves and who were perceived as necessary cheap labor. Even after Brown, many people felt compelled to behave in a manner perceived to put “family first” rather than be better or fairer for society as a whole (as if that were “communism”).

 

An important concept is the difference between desegregation and integration. A good reference to explain this is http://www.reference.com/browse/wiki/Racial_integration

To some extent, desegregation of schools would be accomplished slowly by forced busing of students, which contradicts the concept of neighborhood schools. Here is a typical reference:  http://www.adversity.net/special/busing.htm

 

Home of the Brave (2004, HVE/Couterpoint, dir Paola di Florio, nar. Stockard Channing, 75 min with 20 minutes of extra interviews) relates the story of Viola Liuzzo, mother of five in Detroit, who traveled to Selma, AL in 1965 to help with a civil rights march and was assassinated and shot in the head. She is apparently the only major white female civil rights activist to be murdered during the movement. The story is told by other family members, and it becomes clear that an FNI plant Gary Thomas Rowe may have been responsible, as the FBI covered up the crime. Some of the perpetrators would be convicted of civil rights violations but were acquitted of murder.  Son Tony would become an anti-government activist and join the Michigan Militia (which became notorious after Oklahoma City) and go underground after 9/11 and the Patriot Act. The DVD includes an interview with author Mary Stanton, From Selma to Sorrow: The Life and Death of Viola Luizzo, University of Georgia Press, 2000). The media discussed the film as a test of whether an individual should jeopardize her family by unilaterally entering a controversial pursuit, but the family seems proud of its mother. One family members makes the comment, however, that when one challenges evil on principle, the consequences can last for generations.  

 

For Us the Living: The Medgar Evers Story (MGM/Charles Fries, 1983, dir. Michael Schultz, wr. Ossie Davis, from the book by Myrlie Evers PG-13) presents a biography of Medgar Evers (Howard E. Rollins. Jr.), who took a job as director of an NAACP chapter in Jackson MS in 1953, at the consternation of his wife Myrlie (Irene Cara), who would have preferred a concentric sense of responsibility from him (to his own family first). Gradually the demonstrations build up, often spontaneously, as when high school kids sit in at a library; then there is a boycott of Jackson businesses. Of course, the sheriff, police and courts are rigged to maintain segregation. It would have been helpful if the narrative had worked in the timing of Brown v. Board of Education. There are black-and-white TV clips of President Kennedy and of some of the riot footage. In the end, Evers is assassinated outside his own home with a shotgun. The title, ironically, reminds me of Ayn Rand and “We the Living.”  The film was shot around Atlanta, not in Mississippi.

 

A better-known film dealing with the Evers assassination is Ghosts of Mississippi (1996, Columbia/Castle Rock, dir. Rob Reiner, R, 130 min) in which Alec Baldwin plays the assistant DA in Hinds Co, Ms, and Whoppi Goldberg plays Myrlie. The film covers the two trials that ended in hung juries, and then the events that lead to bringing Byron De La Beckwith (James Woods) to trial thirty years later. Goldberg’s performance dominates the film as I recall it.

 

 This film does not have the spectacle of Alan Parker’s Mississippi Burning (1988, Orion, with Gene Hackman, Wilem Dafoe, Frances MacDormand), which documents the murder of three student white civil rights workers (Chaney, Goodman, and Schwerner) in Mississippi in 1964; it took time for the deep South to come around. This film used a conflict between two law enforcement officials to bring out the whole story, that at one time was seen as a ruse made up my “northern liberals.”  I visited Philadelphia, Ms myself in 1985.  Another related film is Ghosts of Mississippi (1996,

 

The Untold Story of Emmett Louis Till (2005, ThinkFilm, dir/ Keith and Kevin A. Beauchamp, 70 min, sug PG-13, web site) is a biographical documentary relating the story behind the assassination of a 14-year-old African American Emmett Louis Till for whistling at a white girl in Mississippi in August 1955. His murder would provide considerable momentum to the Civil Rights movement later. Much of the narrative consists of interviews with his mother, who relates in graphic detail how his face and skull were mutilated, some of it probably before he was dead. There were two trials with no convictions, and now the Justice Department has opened a new investigation.  The film does show some stills of lynchings.  The film is digital video, in 4:3 aspect ratio so it does not fill a conventional screen but will play full screen on a DVD. There are many authentic and effective black-and-white newsreels and clips shot in the 1950s.  Here is a web reference about the “lynching of Emmett Louis Till”: http://www.fnewsmagazine.com/2005-feb/current/pages/10.shtml

 

Rosewood (1997, Warner Bros., dir. John Singleton, 140 min, PG-13) is a dramatic account of the arson-burning (essentially a mass lynching) of an all black town of Rosewood, FL in 1923 because of a lie. Mann (Ving Rhames) helps some survivors escape the town, with the help of a store owner played by Jon Voigt. An intense, grim but big-looking film.

 

Separate But Equal (1991, Artisan/Republic, dir. George Stevens, Jr., 186 min) is a TV series in two parts about the arguments and events that led up to the Supreme Court Brown v. Board of Education decision in 1954 ordering an end to public school segregation, albeit “with all deliberate speed.” The first part of the film concentrates on Clarendon County, S.C. (Briggs et. al. v. Elliott et. al.), and the second part deals with the Supreme Court. Sidney Poitier plays Thurgood Marshall, and Richard Kiley is Earl Warren (Burt Lancaster is John W. Davis). One of the most interesting threads of argument concerns history: did abolitionists focus on the civil rights of the freed slaves as citizens, particularly education? Public education had been almost unknown in Civil War times. The arguments refer to the earlier decision, Plessy v. Ferguson (1896), that had held a “separate but equal” paradigm constitutional; and the film also sets the tone for today’s debate about “original intent” of the framers of the Constitution and subsequent amendments; the final unanimous 9-0 Opinion is based on a more modern reading of the Fourteenth Amendment, if still literal to a modern reader. The film has many interesting images, such as a recurring one of a model railroad in Marshall’s home, a model that grows, and even the printing of the Opinion with 50s technology, as well as black-and-white TV broadcasts from the 1952 political conventions (I remember them – I first heard about Nixon then). There is a shot from Little Roundtop in Gettysburg.

 

I recall Seventh Grade 1955-1956 at Swanson Jr. High (now Swanson Middle School) in Arlington VA, that the “General Education” (English and social studies, two periods consolidated) taught the history of this case in detail and told us what was coming. In high school, at Washington-Lee, integration was indeed slow in coming. The academic standards of my graduation year 1960-1961 were among the top ten in the nation. The school has not, in intervening decades, been able to maintain that standard, although it may recover now. I subbed there some in 2004 and 2005.

 

More reference material is at http://www.doaskdotell.com/refer/oldcourt.htm .

 

C.S.A.: The Confederate States of America (2004, IFC/Hodcarrier, dir. Kevin Willmott, 89 min, sug PG-13). We all know from history books that the CSA was the entity comprising southern states right before the War Between the States (the Civil War), presided by Jefferson Davis. So this docu-fantasy supposes, what if the South had won? We would have wound up with a Fascist country, right? Well, pretty much so. This came much closer to happen than high school history teachers want to admit, as England and France were not too far from intervening on behalf of the South. The opening scene of this wicked satire is one of the most “offensive”: a television ad from “Confederate Life Insurance,” pandering to a “father” – probably trying to sell conversions to term life (I have been approached to do this). The film shows typical video clips of what modern life would be like in 2002 or so with “servants” as chattel, and it’s pretty callous. Then the film speculates about a probable course of American history for 150 years. The C.S.A. becomes the whole country, and northerners are taxed, with an out if they buy slaves themselves. It gets pretty bad. Hitler is encourage to make the Jews into chattel in Gentile homes, but the US still goes to war with Japan. Canada, a refuge for abolitionists, becomes a “communist” enemy. The Fauntroy family establishes a political dynasty. It’s interesting, though, to listen to the propaganda, to see how easily racist ideology is made to sound like “freedom” with “Christian” values. Toward the end a presidential candidate must confront rumors that he could have some colored blood, and he refuses to submit to a DNA test. The spin seems to count more than the truth. Perhaps in addition to a “Child Online Protection Act” (COPA) there could be a “Servant Online Protection Act.” There is one particularly embarrassing scene where a black man with an unusually hairy chest is subjected to an electrocardiograph stress test with sticky electrodes, in order to show that he is suitable “property.” There is even an auction of slaves on an Ebay-like site. The film is in digital video, and unfortunately only in the old 1.66:1  aspect ratio, without even normal wide screen.  

 

Walkout (2006, HBO, dir. Edward James Olmos) is a dramatization of the 1968 Los Angeles school riots that start as students “walk out” of classes at five high schools to protest unfair treatment of Latinos and Chicanos. The demonstrations are staged by Paula Crisostomo (Alexa Vega). The police action, and the brutality with the clubs and beatings, is harrowing. This all comes from an era when public group demonstrations base on solidarity were the only way to protest; today there is the passive protest on the Internet. Students would make demands against abuses such as corporal punishment, assignment of janitorial duties, and being prohibited from speaking Spanish, and even from exclusion from college consideration. You have to be more confrontational in those days. The "system" then tries to put the kids away for decades long prison terms. This was all shortly after the spring riots in Washington based on the King assassination.  

 

Walkabout (1971, 20th Century Fox, dir. Nicholas Roeg) sounds like a similar name but is about a ritualistic outback exercise on an aborigine banished from his tribe, discovered by two children stranded in the desolation.

 

Note

 

Another hard-hitting political film will be American Lynching, from Gode Davis. I have seen a clip from it (as of early 2003). The reference is http://www.americanlynching.com  (a slide show preview is available at this site now). The Co-Producer and Director of Photography is James Fortier. There is more information at Turtle Island Productions http://www.turtle-island.com/home.html . Avis Thomas-Lester wrote a piece “Repairing Senate’s Record on Lynching: ‘Long Overdue’ Apology Would Be Congress’s First For Treatment of Blacks”, The Washington Post, June 11, 2005. The House three times passed bills making lynching a federal offense, and the Senate has always turned it down, claiming “states rights.” The Senate votes on a new bill on June 14 offering a non-binding apology. According to the story, 4,743 people were lynched between 1882 and 1968 (3,446 blacks). The bill provides only a formal apology for allowing lynching, which was often a very public event (with school and business closings), used to establish social control (often over blacks in the South, but not always). (The “non binding” part apparently is an attempt to avoid extending an invitation to pursue reparations.) Another potential risk was going after family members of activists trying to overturn segregation.

 

I was able to be present for the Senate voice vote (no roll call!) on Monday, June 13, 2005 and to attend a couple of the conferences and discussions. The vote had been sponsored by Senator George Allen (R-VA) and Mary Landrieu (D-LA). James Allen presented his book Without Sanctuary: Lynching Photography in America (ISBN 0944092691 Twin Palms). I met Carol Devoe, whose LLP Rosadele Productions is making the film Portrait of a Legacy: The Anthony P. Crawford Story. I heard James Cameron, lynching victim (from Indiana, not a southern state) who escaped, speak; a good reference is http://www.thehypertexts.com/Mysterious_Ways_Lynching_of_James_Cameron.htm  (I made an unedited tape of some of the sessions; go to http://www.doaskdotell.com/photo/lynching4.mpg .) Sen. Landrieu compared lynching to domestic terrorism, and argued effectively that this is a compelling time to address the issue as part of the War on Terror. Emma Coleman Jordan, Professor of Law at Georgetown University in Washington, argues that lynching contributed to the collective generational economic imbalances that justify not only affirmative action but also reparations, at least to the families or descendants of the victims.

 

A related incident concerns the aftermath of white students’ hanging nooses from a high school yard tree in Jena, LA in 2006. In the ensuing incidents, blacks were prosecuted more severely than whites, and a March on Jena took place Sept. 20, 2007.

 

There is more about Jena and the lynching and problems public display of nooses at my blogger coverage of CNN’s story on this, here.

 

The Last Lynching (2008, Discovery Channel, dir. narrated by Ted Koppel) about the 1981 lynching of Michael Donald in Mobile, AL and the subsequent wrongful death lawsuit. Blogger.

 

Another important film is Banished: How Whites Drove Blacks Out of Town in America, directed by Marco Williams, about how three towns in the American south expelled their African-American residents by force early in the 20th Century. This important documentary will be shown at the AFI / Discover Documentary Film Festival in Silver Spring MD in June 2007. This film should not be confused with a thriller of the same name directed by Omad Shabkhiz. The AFI Silver link is this. Here is a Los Angeles Times Calendertimes detailed review, by Kevin Thomas in the meantime. This was finally shown on Howard University television in Washington March 1, 2008. Here is my review.

 

Meeting David Wilson (2008, MSNBC (Focus Features?) / Official Films, dir. David A. Wilson). An African American man from Newark travels to a North Carolina tobacco “plantation” to meet the white man of the same name whose family owned his slave family 150 years ago. Blogger discussion

 

The Night James Brown Saved Boston (2008, Shout! Factory, dir. David Leaf, 74 min) documents the concert by rock singer James Brown in the Boston Garden the night after the Martin Luther King assassination in 1968. Blogger.

 

Amazing Grace (2006, Samuel Goldwyn/Roadside Attractions, dir. Michael Apted, written by Steven Knight (appears to be original screenplay), 120 min, PG, UK) is the true story of William Wilberforce (Ioam Grufudd) who, over twenty years or so, maneuvers through the House of Commons to get Britain out of the slave trade. Some of the story is told in flashbacks, particularly his friendship with Young Pitt (Benedict Cumberbatch) who becomes a young prime minister.  Around 1798 or so, William finally marries and starts a family, after the comment is made that he is too idealistic for marriage (and that comment is also made about his wife). In that sense, he is a bit like a Ralph Nader of his era. There is a faint hint that the friendship with Pitt may be homoerotic. Gradually, the politics of European history and the French and American revolutions (both) get involved, as does the seizure or impressments issue that eventually will lead to the War of 1812. The movie gradually ages William, who suffers from colitis. There are other characters like  Lord Charles Fox (Michael Gambon), the Duke of Clarence (Toby Jones), Thomas Clarkson (Rufus Sewell), and John Newton (Albert Finney), and the confidant Richard the Butler (Jeremy Swift), as well as the slave Oloudaqh Equaino (Youssou N’Dour). At one point, William looks up the definition of “integrity” in the dictionary.  The famous hymn does appear at least twice (once when William sings it a cappella in Parliament) as does quite a bit of Haydn. The film contains graphic verbal descriptions of the treatment of slaves on the transport ships, echoing what was actually shown in Amistad (1997). There are also some discussions of the exploitation of the poor in working classes, and the comparison of the lot of slaves to other working poor.

 

A Lesson Before Dying (1999, HBO, dir. Joseph Sargent, 101 min). In segregated Louisiana in the 1940s, a black teen Jefferson (Mekhi Phifer) is wrongly accused of murdering a white grocery store owner in a holdup. His own attorney calls him a “hog” and denigrates him as a second-class citizen at trial, and he is sentenced to die. Teacher Grant Wiggins (Don Cheadle), who lectures the school kids that it is his job to make them into men (in a segregated society) tries to commune with Jefferson and provide him some sense of redemption. The title is ironic, since “A Kiss Before Dying” is a well-known thriller, made twice.

 

Unchained Memories: Readings from the Slave Narratives (2002, HBO, dir. Ed Bell and Thomas Lennon, 75 min). Blogger.   

 

 

Related reviews: The Great White Hope   Bowling for Columbine    Amistad

 

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