Monday, January 21, 2013

Martin Luther King, the struggle for Civil Rights and the Movies.

Civil Rights. Martin Luther King is the great symbol of the civil rights struggle battle against racism of the last half of the 20th Century. For those of us who lived through it and participated in it marked us and framed who we are. It was all too real and violent and deadly.

Because the struggle against racism and for civil rights was so dramatic it has also been explored in film. But as dramatic and dark as the period and events were, some films actually managed to deal with racism with humor. But most civil rights films have a somber tone and are based in real-life occurrences. It also must be remembered (as Reverend King reminds us) that the civil rights struggle was not just about African-Americans and the south it was/is about poor people; it was also about such things as the farm workers struggle, and the struggle for gay rights.

Many films deal with persons involved in the Civil Rights movement, some deal with events. Some are fictional and some are documentaries.

Django Unchained is not listed here. I am not sure it belongs.

Mississippi Burning
This true story about the deaths of three civil-rights workers in 1964 was justifiably praised for its stellar acting and Alan Parker's direction. Critically acclaimed, the film was nominated for 7 Academy Awards, including Best Picture. Perhaps the most important legacy of the film is its accurate portrayal of life in the south during the civil rights movement. It was a volatile time in American History, and Mississippi Burning captures that with it’s many complexities.

Ghosts of Mississippi
Rob Reiner directed this film about white supremacist who assassinated Medgar Evers and walked away free. James Woods is repellent. It clearly portrays the vitriol exhibited by some in the south in those years.

This was a mini-series about the life of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. A wonderful portrayal of Dr. King.. Paul Winfield really captures both the moral strength and the personal insecurities of the man. With Cicely Tyson and Ossie Davis.

Malcolm X
In Spike Lee's powerful film with, Denzel Washington as the controversial black nationalist

The Jackie Robinson Story
Game-changing ball player Robinson stars in his own life story, as the first black man to play in the Major Leagues.

The Long Walk Home
Sissy Spacek and Whoopi Goldberg star as a Southern housewife and her maid who become unlikely allies during the Montgomery bus boycott of 1955.

The Intruder
This Roger Corman drama stars a pre-Star Trek William Shatner as a racist rabble-rouser who incites his town against school desegregation.

John Waters takes a dim view of racial prejudice in this, the original Hairspray - not the musical - about the integration of the music scene in Baltimore in the 1960s.

The Defiant Ones
Stanley Kramer’s 1958 drama film which tells the story of two escaped prisoners, one white and one black, who are shackled together and who must co-operate in order to survive. It stars Tony Curtis and Sidney Poitier,

Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner
Also by Stanley Kramer and also with Sidney Poitier. Pretty tame it was groundbreaking at the time it was produced. Inter-racial marriage was illegal in many states at the time. It was Spencer Tracy’s last film.

To Kill a Mockingbird
This is a classic. Released in the midst of the civil rights movement, the film takes a look at equality, prejudice, and the importance of courage under fire. Six-year-old Scout (Mary Badham) and her 12-year-old brother, Jem (Phillip Alford), are brought out of an era of innocence when their father Atticus (Gregory Peck) defends a black man in court.

In the Heat of the Night
Norman Jewison’s 1967 mystery film based on the John Ball novel of the same name published in 1965, which tells the story of Virgil Tibbs, a black police detective from Philadelphia, who becomes involved in a murder investigation in a racist small town in Mississippi. The film won five Academy Awards, including Best Picture. It stars Sidney Poitier and Rod Steiger.

Blazing Saddles
I said there were films that dealt with racism with humor. Sheriff Cleavon Little in Ku Klux Klan robes skewers not only racism, but the stereotypes that populate Hollywood movies. The film is primarily meant for laughs, but underneath is one of the most comprehensive takes on the stupidity of racism.

The struggle for civil rights for Gays and Lesbians. This film is a biography of gay rights activist Harvey Milk who was shot and killed by Dan White.

The documentaries:

Eyes on the Prize
At 14 hours long, "Eyes on the Prize" is widely considered to be the most exhaustive accounting of the civil rights movement on screen. It documents the African-American fight for equality between the years of 1954 and 1985.

Chicano! History of the Mexican American Civil Rights Movement
Four-part documentary series "Chicano! History of the Mexican American Civil Rights Movement" chronicles the fight the Latino community waged for equality in the 1960s.

The Fight in the Fields: Cesar Chavez and the Farmworkers’ Struggle
César Chávez may be the most recognized historical figure in Mexican-American history but his life story hadn’t fully been told on screen until the release of "The Fight in the Fields: Cesar Chavez and the Farmworkers’ Struggle."

4 Little Girls
The Spike Lee documentary "4 Little Girls" chronicles the 1963 bombing of a black church in Birmingham, Ala. The explosion took the lives of an 11-year-old and three 14-year-old African-American girls.

Freedom Riders
In the "Freedom Riders," filmmaker Stanley Nelson tells the story of the racially mixed group of 400 men and women who risked their lives in 1961 to end racial segregation in interstate travel. Although the Supreme Court had earlier ruled that segregation in interstate travel facilities violated the Constitution, Jim Crow remained alive and well on transport in Southern states.

No comments: