Tag: civil rights


I Am Not Your Negro

January 9th, 2018 — 9:14am

**** 

I Am Not Your Negro-sp

In 1979, the esteemed writer, James Baldwin, proposed a book to his agent which would deal with the life and death of Malcolm X, Medgar Evers and Martin Luther King. He only got around to completing 30 pages of this book and he died eight years later in 1987. Director and Screenwriter, Raoul Peck, picked up the ball and constructed this documentary film using the beginning 30 pages plus clips of Baldwin and other important voices on the subject and brought in Samuel Jackson to do the voice over. He constructed a story that highlighted the oppression of blacks in this country dating back to slavery and moving forward to the modern civil rights movement in which Malcolm X, Evers and King made such major contributions each in his own way.

This is more than a review of history. It captures how Baldwin and others have felt as they were denied the freedoms (overt and subtle) that so many Americans take for granted. His passion comes across so clearly whether it is in viewing clips of interviews with him on the Dick Cavett Late Night Television Show or the voice of Samuel Jackson as he speaks through the written words of Baldwin and the director/writer Peck. There are appropriate film clips from classic American films which include well-known actors, as well as newsreels which show Evers, King and Malcolm X making their indelible mark on American history.

We would like to say that this is all past history. Baldwin died 30 years ago and the three subjects of his proposed book are gone even longer. While these great men and many others have brought us much closer to a time when racial discrimination would be ancient history, we are not there yet. This documentary film which was nominated for an Oscar as best documentary film last year will allow its viewers to reflect about contemporary times and consider what still has to be done. (2017)

Comment » | 4 Stars, Documentary, History

What Happened, Miss Simone?

March 13th, 2016 — 9:37pm

Screen Shot 2016-03-13 at 9.50.30 AM****

 

What Happened, Miss Simone? -nf

This Oscar nominated documentary biography will grab you and hold your attention and your emotions. You will re-experience the meaning that the Civil Rights Movement may have had to you and how you understand its significance in this country. Music as it always does, creates and brings out deep-rooted feelings and the haunting music and lyrics of this gifted singer and musician will do just that. You will come to understand who Nina Simone was and where she came from and what she was trying to do. But this film will also raise questions about Miss Simone, as a wife, mother, and troubled soul that will remain unanswered although undoubtedly you will share our admiration for her.

Nina Simone grew up as the preacher’s daughter in North Carolina. She was noted to have musical talent and as a young girl she played the piano in church. She went on to get formal music lessons and she had a lifelong unfulfilled wish to be the first black classical concert pianist. She also , clearly, experienced the pain of the Jim Crow South and multiple occasions of blatant discrimination because she was black.

This film documents what she did become and that is a widely acclaimed blues singer with a very distinctive style. When the Civil Rights Movement burst upon the scene, her music and words became part of its anthem alongside of Martin Luther King and others. This was symbolized by the controversial song Mississippi Goddamn”( click to hear this great song) which was embraced by the movement but apparently ultimately marginalized Miss Simone’s ability to work in the musical industry.

The details of Miss Simone’s journey were very well documented with film clips and interviews with people who were very close to her including lifelong friends, fellow musicians, her husband, and her now grown daughter. One of the most fascinating and convincing parts of this documentary film was the showing of the handwritten pages of her own diary. These scribbled words with printed subtitles at the bottom of the screen, documented her love and dependency on her husband, a former New York City policeman who guided a good part of her successful career but also apparently viciously beat her according to her own words. We do not really understand why and how she tolerated him so long before divorcing him. Nor do we understand how she could suddenly leave her loved only young daughter with her good friend and abruptly go off to Europe to try to revive her career.

Her own diary also documents her bouts of suicidal thoughts during this period. As a psychiatrist, one of us (MB) knows we can never properly make a diagnosis or understand the clinical issues in someone we have never seen in our consulting room. However, it should be stated that in her late years, we clearly see a very depressed woman. We are told in the words of her grown daughter and others that she had a diagnosis made of manic-depression and was prescribed “Trilafon” (a second generation antipsychotic medication – not usually the medicine of choice for this condition). We are also told that the medication helped her a little bit. It is also stated that she subsequently had certain symptoms of stiffness and twitching of her lip which are common side effects of this medication that was given to her. While we certainly don’t know all the details we can’t help wondering if she had the best treatment

Miss Simone died at the age of 70 and we do not know too much about her last few years. We have come away from this well-done documentary film by director and producer Liz Garbus with an appreciation how this talented woman was able to find her destiny at the same time that she was able to touch the emotions and express the voice of so many people during the Civil Rights Movement in this country. Through this film and her music, there is the opportunity for her work reach future generations. (2015)

 

Comment » | 4 Stars, Biography, Documentary

The Butler

August 19th, 2013 — 6:33am

uptown-the-butler-poster*****

The Butler – rm This is much more than the story of Cecil Gaines (Forest Whitaker) who served as a butler in the White House for United States Presidents from Eisenhower through Reagan. It is a moving depiction of the civil rights movement in the United States from the maltreatment of blacks in the south in the 1930s through the dramatic integration of schools in Little Rock, to Sit-Ins to integrate diners in the south , to the brave Freedom Bus Riders, the civil rights legislation, the tragic assassination of Martin Luther King and the continued demonstrations which followed in the years to come. The viewers are taken on a very personal journey to experience these events and others, as the Butler’s grown son Louis (David Oyelowo) participates in them while his father views the role of the United States President in shaping and responding to them. The movie is based on a newspaper article by Wil Haygood about a real person who served United States presidents as a White House butler for this large span of years and lived long enough to vote for Barack Obama. Even if screenwriter Danny Strong and Director Lee Daniels may have taken poetic license by having the older son Louis being present at all of the major events in the Civil Rights Movement shown in the film, it allows us to emotionally go through these milestones in a first hand manner. They are brought to life as if they were ripped from the pages of history. The friction between father and son emphasizes the differences in generational thinking not only of this one black family but would also reflect some of the changes in thinking which many of us have seen in this country during our life time. Forest Whitaker is magnificent as the Butler as he captures the soul and dignity of his character. Oprah Winfrey is outstanding as the sensitive wife who struggles with the frequent absence of her husband due to his long hours at the White House and the pain which the lives of her sons brings her. We don’t know if the words attributed to each U.S. President are known quotes but the character of them and the significant events that were shown during their presidencies all ring true. The mannerisms of each them were handled quite well by Robin Williams as Eisenhower, John Cusack as Richard Nixon, James Marsden as John F. Kennedy, Liev Schreiber as LBJ and Alan Rickman as Ronald Reagan along with Jane Fonda as Nancy Reagan. There were many other very fine supporting roles. In addition, the movie is bookended quite well by a most dramatic and traumatic turn of events from the young Cecil Gaines as a youth working in the cotton fields in the south to him being an aged man walking in to meet the first black President of the United States. The sense of the historic chain of events which this encompassed will send chills up your spine and probably bring tears to your eyes. (2013)

Comment » | 5 Stars, Drama, History

Ghosts of Mississippi

January 16th, 2010 — 1:56am

Ghosts of Mississippi* * * *
Ghosts of Mississippi
– nf – Michael stumbled on this movie on HBO which is available on Netflix. Initially I thought it was another Law & Order or Cold Case TV program. I may have seen before but am very glad I came across it. This 1996 stunning movie directed by Rob Reiner is the story of the persistence of a Jackson Mississippi Assistant District Attorney, played by Alec Baldwin, to retry white supremacist Bryon De La Beckwith played by James Woods who received an Oscar nomination for his portrayal of this despicable man who assassinated civil rights activist Medgar Evers in 1963. Whoopie Goldberg plays Myrlie Evers the widow who never gave up her quest to see justice served for this crime and actually was a consultant for this film. The cast also included James Nelson, William Macy and Virginia Madsen. The film was made two years after the front-page courtroom drama, which rectified the failure of two previous trials 30 years previously. It is a reminder of the racism, which existed in the south, at that time and how there are persistent remnants of it. But it also showed how there was change in an evolving south and in our justice system. The American Film Institute in 2008 chose the courtroom scene to be included in its all time list of best courtroom movie scenes. The entire film should be mandatory viewing for new law graduates and probably even for all high school students. The movie certainly touched my emotions. (1996)

Comment » | 4 Stars, Crime, Drama

Back to top