“Tell Them We Are Rising”: documentary about “black” colleges turns into survey course on Civil Rights history

Tell Them We Are Rising: The Story of Black Colleges and Universities”, directed by Stanley Nelson and written by Marcia Smith, is really more a documentary about the effectiveness of the early infrastructure of black colleges in supporting the Civil Rights movement of the 1950s through the 1970s. It fits well into Black History Month and was aired Presidents’ Day on PBS stations.

The lack of access to education was a handicap for African-Americans even more pervasive that segregation itself.  But in time, starting in the 1920s, the development of black colleges and universities helped turn this around.  Actually, the earliest colleges go back to Reconstruction:  Howard University in Washington DC (now near the booming U-Street corridor in Shaw) was founded in 1867.

The film traces some detail about the sit-ins in Greensboro, NC in 1960 (the restaurant is replicated today in the Smithsonian in the National Museum of American History).  Each day, more people showed up, and the lunch counter would be shut down for “public safety”. The ability of activists to recruit so many additional people in successive days was critical, and it is a critical concept in activism today since not all people will participate in single-issue public protests.

The film moves through the 60s (use of federal troops in Arkansas, Birmingham, Selma, the 1964 slayings of three activists doing voter registration in Mississippi which I remember well, etc) and then focuses on a 1972 incident, the shooting of two students at Southern University in Baton Rouge, LA (story).

Greensboro location (wiki).

Southern University picture (wiki).

Name: Tell Then We Are Rising: The Story of Black Colleges and Universities
Director, writer:  Stanley Nelson, Marcia Smith
Released:  2017
Format:  digital video
When and how viewed:  PBS, replay from website, 2018/2/20, aired 2/19
Length:  82
Rating:  NA
Companies:  Fireside, PBS Independent Lens
Link:  official
Stars:  3-1/2 out of 5

(Posted: Wednesday, February 21, 2018 at 10 AM).

“Must We Defend Nazis?” seems to skim the surface of the hate-speech debate

Must We Defend Nazis?:  Why the First Amendment Should Not Protect Hate Speech and White Supremacy”, by Richard Delgado and Jean Stefancic (2018) seems to be a slightly condense reissue of the older “Must We Defend Nazis? Hate Speech, Pornography, and the New First Amendment” (1997) by the same authors.

The book largely focuses on racist hate speech, even though there are other groups that can be targeted, and indeed Nazi Germany’s targeting was based on religion first (Judaism does not define a race; most practitioners are white). So that sets up one problem outright:  Does race need special attention today as the object of hate speech?

Then, we have to define what we mean by hate speech.  The book is focused on the fact that U.S. criminal law maintains content neutrality which permits hate speech, whereas other democratic countries have stronger laws against hate speech per se. That’s not totally correct. Some speech in he US is illegal based on content, such as obscenity, child pornography, or terrorist recruiting. And there has been at least one Supreme Court case in the U.S. Bauharnais v. Illinois (1952) that allows the concept of group libel even in criminal law, but it has not had much effect.  And some tort law in the U.S., such as “intentional infliction of emotional distress,” would seem to allow the concept of group hate speech in civil cases.

Generally, hate speech laws abroad define hate speech as any public speech (whether a social media posting or a yard or automobile sign on a property) that tends to promote hatred against a protected group, especially according to race, religion, ethnicity, and sometimes sexual orientation or gender identity, and sometimes a disability.  The group animus is a broader concept in the U.S., where usually there has to be an imminent threat of lawless action (like incitement to riot). This understanding is a slippery slope that can create serious problems for Internet service or social media companies, book publishers and movie distributors. With speech content issues, social context and probable interpretation by the public means everything, and we’ll come back to this later, as the book seems to miss one big point.

A big question would be whether racist speech and especially neo-Nazi speech in the US should get more scrutiny than other “hate speech”.  I understand and somewhat sympathize with their argugment that US history (slavery, segregation, Jim Crow laws, police profiling) make “blacks” especially vulnerable to group oppression in some contexts.  I am rather shocked, given all the progress (having a black president in Obama) that the “whitelash” with the Trump election and alleged Russian meddling seems so severe, much worse than I would have imagined in the middle of 2016.  I do not like to get into a debate as to whether the white supremacy movement (as in Charlottesville) should be condemned more than the violent side of Antifa;  that’s like arguing about whether Hitler was worse than Stalin, Pol Pot, and now Kim Jong Un.  In fact, we should remember that in the 1950s Communism was much more feared “officially” than any resurgence of Nazism, although a tacit political balance allowed the overt racism (and KKK) in the South through the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. (That’s an idea in the “How Democracies Die” book that I’ll take up soon.)

When we talk about which groups should get more attention for past oppression, we have to remember that sexual harassment (especially by those with power in the workplace, mostly by heterosexual men against women) is now a sudden and major controversy that can also mediate free speech debates.

The book, to its credit, makes the point that “equality” and “free speech” (content neutrality) have tension between them, which cannot be resolved conclusively by any moral “theorem”;  axioms of choice must exist.  For example, because I have some money (some inherited, a lot saved after being earned  legitimately in the technology workplace for decades with conservative personal investments and little personal debt), and because I am a white male, arguably I have more leverage to have my speech listened to than the average African -American. (I talk about this in my 2014 DADT III book.) I could, however, speculate as to whether I have been discriminated against as a member of the LGBTQ community. My own history would make that claim a dubious one in my case, not necessarily in other LGBTQ people’s stories. It is true, as the authors claim, there is no systematic oppression of whites as compared to non-whites (“people of color”) that I would have had to face.  The authors (like on p. 34) make the point that some balance needs to be struck between “First Amendment free speech fundamentalism” and “legal realism”.  They also try to defuse the idea that “more speech” is the answer to edgy speech perceived (often incorrectly) as “group hatred”.  The ACLU particularly, is caught in the middle, as may also be the Electronic Frontier Foundation. The book seems particularly insulted by the existentialism of some of the libertarian right, which denounces trends  of promoting group-based victimization as somehow justifying personal character weakness.

It’s well to remember that the private sector generally has strong policies against hate speech, as usually understood by its stakeholders.  Books submitted to self-publishing companies generally go through “content review” to make sure they don’t constitute hate speech. Even twenty years ago, you would hear stories of people fired from jobs (“dooced”) for racial remarks in the workplace (in one case in Minneapolis, on a slip of paper).  Very recently, very large tech companies (starting with Cloudflare against Daily Stormer) have started to refuse to do business with entities perceived as hate groups (especially neo-Nazi);  Twitter said it would purge users who belonged to supremacist groups, as if it could spy on them. The advent of personal websites and social media created a novel conflict of interest risk, as I have shown in previous blog posts (and argued in DADT III):  a person with direct reports in the workplace might be considered prejudiced against certain groups by social media comments or self-published remarks uncovered by search engines.

Let me come back to the point the authors perhaps barely hint at in the closing chapter. The “offensiveness” of an item of speech can depend on the identity of the speaker and of public knowledge of the speaker’s circumstances.  There has been a problem with “meta-speech”, where satirical impersonations of the speech of others is not properly understood by some listeners, resulting in takedowns by social media companies (“Facebook jail”). Also, particularly on the far Left, “resistance” has sometimes focused on the idea that a person’s public mention of a controversy means that the issue is still unsettled, especially if the speaker did not have to put his own personal “skin in the game”. This gets to be elaborated to the point that the mere (intellectually motivated but emotionally aloof) mention of some ideas is viewed as recirculating “hate speech”. This observation is related to notions like “gratuitous speech” and “implicit content”, the latter of which got mentioned in the 2007 COPA trial.

A problem then that gets related to this is the “heckler’s veto”.  For example, there has been a case whether College Republicans have to pay increased security costs when a provocateur like Milo Yiannopoulos is scheduled to speak, even though his speech (if read carefully, like his book), actually is not racist.  The far Left, as well as sometimes the alt-right, can use the collective grievances of their base groups to maintain an illusion of hate speech from others whom they see as artificially “elite”.  Appeals to “personal responsibility” along with official “neutrality” are sometimes seen as actually intended but indirect enmity.   There is a good question of legal principal as to whether speakers (especially those without direct “skin in the game”) should bear the (legal or indemnifying) responsibility for causing themselves or those associated with themselves to be targeted by enemies (most of all, foreign enemies – look at the Sony hack case in 2014).  The recent ruling in Washington state is a step in the right direction (pun), I hope. On the other hand, restriction of some individual speakers could be seen by some (especially on the Left) as encouraging more solidarity (individuals could be forced to join groups to be heard at all) and promoting more equality (even forced group-oriented charity or supervised community engagement).

Harvard Law professor Alan Dershowitz criticized this book in this op-ed.

I must say, carrying this book around on the Metro got some quizzical looks from people.  And, whatever the original circumstances of the placement of various Confederate military statues in southern cities, to focus on their presence now as “hate speech” and “oppression” seems rather a stretch.  You have to remember history.

Author: Richard Delgado and Jean Stefancic
Title, Subtitle: “Must We Defend Nazis: Why the First Amendment Should Not Protect Hate Speech and White Supremacy”
publication date 2018
ISBN 978-1-4798-5783-8 paper
Publication: New York University, 8 chapters, 164 pages
Link: Publisher

(Posted: Sunday, February 11, 2018 at 8 PM EST)

“Brother Outsider: The Life of Bayard Rustin”: 2003 biographical documentary covers activist who connected many issues

A few years ago, Human Rights Campaign (HTC) gave away copies of a DVD for the 2003 PBS POV film “Brother Outsider: The Life of Bayard Rustin”, a biography   I overlooked it, and discovered it while packing to move from house to condo this fall in my own personal “downsizing”.

The 84 minute documentary is directed by Bennett Singer and Nancy Kates. It features a lot of black and white newsreel footage in small aspect, as well as interviews with two of Rustin’s male partners and also Eleanor Holmes Norton.

Rustin is perhaps best known for working with Dr. Martin Luther King on various events including the 1963 March on Washington, as a covert gay man.  But his life spanned many issues, moving from communism to anti-communism, working with labor unions to get them up to speed on civil rights, draft resistance, and only later in life openness about homosexuality. The film ends with some coverage of the 1987 LGB march on Washington;  the 1993 LGB march was larger and better known (I attended it) and covered heavily by writers like Andrew Sullivan.

Throughout his life, the FBI closely monitored him.  He served prison time for resisting the WWII draft, and wrote to his male partner from prison as if his partner was a woman. He had at one time joined the Young Communist League (in 1936) but after the US entered WWII the communists dropped their interest in race relations.  Ironically, later, he would push for racial integration of the military, which Truman achieved in 1948.

Later in life, he would be busted for public sex in Pasadena CA in 1953, and the history of a “morals charge” would be used in rhetoric against him, as by Senator Strom Thurmond (whom we know emphatically opposed lifting the ban on gays in the military in 1993, with his “it isn’t normal” rant in a public assembly in Norfolk right in front of Tracey Thorne.)

Later in his life, Rustin became anti-communist and supported US involvement in Vietnam but criticized many of the specific actions taken by the military. The film does cover the issue of identity politics and intersectionality as Rustin experienced it in earlier generations.  He created controversy as to whether is involvement with labor issues and later Vietnam represented the best interest of “his own people”, African-Americans.  He believed that African-Americans (called “negroes” in the 1960s when I was coming of age) needed to accept that technology would affect the labor market for everyone.  Heliked to use the phrase “angelic troublemakers”.

Name:  “Brother Outsider: The Life of Bayard Rustin
Director, writer:  Nancy Kates and Bennett Singer
Released:  2003
Format:  1.85:1  (often 1:37:1), often BW
When and how viewed:  DVD giveaway from HRC, 2017/12/27
Length:  84
Rating:  NA
Companies:  Question Why, PBS POV
Link:  PBS

(Posted: Thursday, Dec. 28, 2017 at

Peter Temin’s “The Vanishing Middle Class”: heavy emphasis on political engineering by race

The Vanishing Middle Class: Prejudice and Power in a Dual Economy”, by MIT Economics professor Peter Temin, is another recent controversial tome on inequality. But unlike “Dream Hoarders” (July 7), this book talks about inequality in terms of collective political forces involving class, money, and especially race, with little direct attention to how individuals should be expected to behave, which was the point of my own “DADT III” book in 2014.

The parts of the book (from the TOC) give a sense of its message:  (I) is “An American Dual Economy”; (ii) “Politics in a Dual Economy”; (III) “Government in a Dual Economy”; (IV) “Comparisons and Conclusions”.   The book is relatively brief; the core parts comprise 160 pages, along with 17 pages of roman-number introduction. (By the way, I think that introductions should always be numbered in the main sequence of the book and show in the page count.)

Temin starts out by showing how capitalism alone tends to generate self-reinforcing inequality.  He calls the upper crust of society the “FTE Sector” (finance, technology and electronics).  Low-wage people doing manual labor or service jobs (or selling on commissions, for example) tend to aspire to enter the FTE but face serious self-perpetuating barriers.  Richer people can save money and owe less, can give their own children more advantages, and are more likely to have kids with “better” genes (the inconvenient truth of “A Troublesome Inheritance”, June 24, going back to ideas like those of Charles Murray), as well (particularly) of more access to “social capital” – informal interdependence with extended family and friends (the “Lotsa Helping Hands” idea in churches).  The economic system has burdened low-income people with student debt (especially with the rise of for-profit universities), upsidedown housing (the 2008 subprime crisis) and medical bills (even with Obamacare – and the GOP is partly right about this in my estimation).  You need to be able to save money to get any traction and move up.  I’ve worked as a debt collector before.  I’ve heard plenty of stories of how this works.

Temin then moves into race – and I’ll add here that in his conclusions he calls for a “Second Reconstruction”.  I wondered if he has sat through “Gone with the Wind”.  He connects race and the history of slavery (versus other, white immigration from Europe) and later segregation to the evolution of American democracy, an unprecedented political innovation at the time of the American Revolution. He traces particularly efforts to suppress blacks from voting (as with the 1964 murders in Mississippi) but he might have paid more attention to recent gerrymandering.  He also discusses incarceration and “war on drugs” policies as racially motivated, as well as attempts to privatize schools and lack of sufficient attention to urban infrastructure (he mentions the politics of constructing a third tunnel under the Hudson to New York, as well as Washington DC’s problems with Metro, leading to reduced hours and the Safe Track surges.  He does talk about the inability of school systems to properly pay teachers, But he could talk about the challenge for teachers from more privileged backgrounds to communicate with students in disadvantaged homes – something I encountered big time as a substitute teacher in the mid 2000’s.  On race and police, he mentions Ferguson (Michael Brown – see “Whose Streets”, May 8) and Florida (Trayvon Martin) without objective attention to the deeper facts behind these particular cases.   In the government area, he makes an interesting comparison of democracy, autocracy, and oligarchy (and rails against the Koch empire, which libertarians usually like; he regards Dallas as a cultural sub-capital for US business). He goes links personal debt to national debt and gets into a discussion about Social Security, denying that it is an earned annuity and implying it could be taken way from rich retired people who are otherwise coasting in neutral, like in the next debt ceiling crisis (which will happen Sept. 29, 2017).  He does present social insurance as needing government and federal oversight, and seems to think that sometimes lenders need to be ready for debt forgiveness (after a discussion of bankruptcy).

On race, I think Temin does not pay enough heed to the fact that economic and social problems of Trump’s rural base (white non-college-educated) are really similar to those of inner city blacks;  opioid has a similar dynamic as crack cocaine, and low-wage and resentment of elitism is pretty much the same.  Furthermore there are plenty of blacks in rural Trump country with the same problems as inner-city blacks and rural whites,

Temin refers to philosopher John Rawls and the 1971 opus “A Theory of Justice”, with his theory of distributive justice.  But it seems to me that such a tome would drill down to a discussion of the moral obligations of every person who finds the self in a more privileged system than others.  It goes beyond the idea of “giving back” or “paying it forward” to the idea of accepting personal interdependence with people in other social classes – a kind of resilience necessary to deal with common external threats (like what we have now).  Unearned wealth, if not widely used, can eventually lead to ugly ends, including shame and expropriation.  Coercion and revolutions do happen.  This is even a little more than my old 2004 essay “Pay your bills, pay your dues”.

Author: Peter Temin
Title, Subtitle: The Vanishing Middle Class: Prejudice and Power in a Dual Economy” The book cover hides the word “Middle” in black and that fooled me!
publication date 2017
ISBN 9780262036160
Publication: 2017, MIT Press, 234 pages with appendix and index, 4 parts, 14 chapters + Introduction
Link: official

(Posted: Friday, Aug. 11, 2017 at 2:30 PM)

“Detroit”: We almost lost it once, and then did lose it

Kathryn Bigelow can be counted on for intensity, and her new dramatic reconstruction of the “Detroit” Rebellion (screenwritten by Marl Boal) and the Algiers Motel murders by police is definitely “in your face” but in the end morbidly fascinating.

I remember that period in my life. July 1967, I had one more semester at KU to get my M.A., before getting drafted and doing Basic at Fort Jackson in the early part of 1968. Once in the Army, I found that many NCO;s and drill sergeants were African American, and one of the squad leaders was an African American pre-med student who was good at absolutely everything. (I would take the physical draft physical in August 1967 in Richmond.)

I last visited the city in August 2012, visited the downtown and one of the gay bars, but noticed the vacant spaces. Anthony Bourdain did a “Parts Unknown” episode in this new Rome, and asked, “what the hell happened here?”

The new film starts out with some Civil Rights history in animation. Detroit, it says, was the most deliberately segregated of all the cities. A couple years before there had been an incident at a nuclear power plant in Michigan that led rags to say “We almost lost Detroit”.

Will Pouter is chilling as the Nazi-like Krauss, all the more chilling with his baby face. He shoots a fleeing looter in the back, and told he will be prosecuted but stays on the force. He “manages” the entire interrogation sequence, the middle section of the movie itself lasting more than an hour, at the motel, started apparently by a toy gun which the cops thought was real.

There follows some courtroom drama, and the scene about how one of the victims of the interrogation becomes a gospel singer.

The film shows the Detroit police as the most bigoted (“Negroes”), alongside Michigan State Police, National Guard, and even the regular Army. During the Vietnam era draft, people would find slots to join the Guard, and escape Vietnam, for this.  The obvious message is that BLM has a long “past is prologue”.

I can recall that in the spring of 1968, after the King assassination, when I was in Tent City or Special Training Company at Fort Jackson, we were on “red alert” after King was assassinated, to make a show of force in downtown Columbia or maybe Orangeburg. It didn’t come off.

This film could be compared to Wexler’s “Medium Cool” (1969, Paramount), about the 1968 Chicago riots, which actually came out with an X rating at first.

Name:  Detroit
Director, writer:  Kathryn Bigelow
Released:  2017
Format:  1.85:1
When and how viewed:  Angelika Mosaic, 2017/8/6, small audience
Length:  143
Rating: R
Companies:  Annapurna, (Sony Pictures Classics, MGM)
Link:  official

(Picture: My visit in August 2012. They keep downtown in decent order.)

“Hurry Sundown”, Otto Preminger’s 1967 melodrama, examined race relations and even draft dodging

Having been reminded of this film by yesterday’s movie with an accidentally similar title, I did rent Otto Preminger’s 1967 melodrama “Hurry Sundown” on Amazon today.

There is something about these older big expansive films in historical settings (the biggest of all is “Giant” in 1954 by George Stevens, which I saw in Dallas in the 1980s at the Inwood) that I miss today.

The film was released in February 1967 when I as starting my third semester of graduate school at the University of Kansas.  I sometimes made it to the Varsity or Granada in downtown Lawrence (Mike Nichols’s and Edward Albee’s “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolf” in black and white) but I don’t remember seeing this one.

The specific issue that got my attention is that a lead character, Henry Warren (Michael Caine, looking out of his usual character) is described as a draft dodger, as he tries to swing a land deal in post World War II Georgia (the film is said to have been shot near Baton Rouge, LA). His rival is a cousin Rad McDowell (John Phillip Law) who has returned unharmed from WWII combat in Europe.  The script (the movie runs 2-1/2 hours) doesn’t tell us exactly how he got out of the draft (like CO, or a fake medical excuse).  There is an early conversation in a car where Rad says that how one experiences European capital cities (like Paris) depends on one’s point of view.  Later Rad tells his own kids that cousin Henry has no conscience.

Henry has a story marriage with Julie (Jane Fonda), who is more protective of her autistic son. Henry blames the mother’s side of the family for his “defective” kid.  But it was common in earlier generations to look at autism or mental disabilities through a moral lens.

Rad has his sons (who figure in the climax) and wife played by Faye Dunaway. Burgess Meredith plays the bigoted judge, and George Kennedy the corrupt sheriff.

People in this generation indeed had different moral postulates, especially about race.  Rad wants to partner with a black sharecropper family  (Reve and Rose Scott, played by Robert Hooks and Beah Richards) to develop his land and refuses to sell.  Rad would have learned better racial attitudes being in the Army. True, Truman would integrate the military in 1948 (as in the HBO film), but there had been proposals when the war began, in 1941.  All of this is prelude to the debate over “don’t ask don’t tell” to erupt a half century later.  Times do change, and so do moral postulates.

The film foreshadows its tragic conclusion by showing blasting on the land to clear irrigation ditches.

Name: “Hurry Sundown”
Director, writer:  Otto Preminger
Released:  1967/2
Format:  2.35:1
When and how viewed:  Amazon Instant 3.99
Length:  144
Rating:  PG-13
Companies:  Paramount
Link:  Ebert

(Posted: Friday, May 19, 2017 at 8:45 PM EDT)

“Two Trains Runnin'” parallels a search for Blues musicians against the Civil Rights movement in Mississippi in 1964

Two Trains Running“, (or, “Two Trains Runnin’“) directed by Samuel D. Pollard and written by Benjamin Hedin, is a docudrama, partly animated, showing two parallel stories in 1964 Mississippi.

One is the search for two Blues singers (Son House and Skip James) in the countryside, by young white blues record collectors.  The other is the tragic outcome of the voting registration drive that led to the murder of three civil rights activists from the North (James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Mickey Schwerner; the last two were white).

On one level, the film shows what the popular music world of the early 60s was like.  I collected classical records at a time when high fidelity and record wear abatement was coming into vogue.  Some of the labels, like Folkways, are shown. Much of the literature was locked up in old 78s.

One of the men was Phil Spiro, who practically flunked out of MIT but went poor in order to do his own music.  He had a day job programming the first IBM mainframe.  Tom Martin provides the voice of Jim Farley.

Then there was the class of white college students at northern universities.  Leadership wanted white college kids, offspring of those in power, involved so the country would understand what was going on with the Civil Rights movement. People were trained in Ohio in how to do community organizing and how to deal with the dangers posed not only by the Ku Klux Klan but also with corrupt police in small towns, including Philadelphia, MS at that time.  The unwillingness of the Johnson administration (including J Edgar Hoover) to enforce desegregation laws in the deep south would not start to turn around until the three young men gave up their lives, a sacrifice as real as anything in Vietnam. They did not rise from the dead, but maybe we should have expected them to. Mr. Goodman’s mother is interviewed.

The film mentions the 2013 Supreme Court decision allowing states more leeway in reintroducing voting requirements.

The film could be compared to the 1988 film “Mississippi Burning“ (Orion) by Alan Parker, with Gene Hackman and Willem Dafoe, which I saw at the AMC Uptown in Washington at that time.

I personally visited Philadelphia, MS in 1985, and Selma, AL in 2014.


1.   This speaker also told me that the first effort to integrate the military by race started with demonstrations in 1941, not just with Truman (HBO, Gary Sinese in 1996) in 1948 (connected eventually to the battle of “don’t ask don’t tell” starting in 1993).




Name:  “Two Trains Runnin'”
Director, writer:  Samuel D. Pollard
Released:  2016
Format:  1.85:1
When and how viewed:  Filmfest DC, Landmark E St. 2017/4/27
Length:  80
Rating:  NA
Companies:  Avalon
Link:  official

(Posted: Thursday, April 27, 2017 at 11 PM EDT)

“Race”: biography of Jesse Owens, who broke the color barrier at the 1936 Berlin Olympics

Race” is a pun, when used as the title of this period history film directed by Stephen Hopkins, about the African-American Olympic track and field star Jesse Owens (Stephan James) in the 1936 games in Berlin.

The film is somewhat workmanlike, with the necessary scenes in German, that don’t overplay the Nazi statist aim to send a message to the world about supposed “Aryan” superiority (as if there was really nothing behind it).  The intervention of Avery Brundage (Jeremy Irons) to shame the planned boycott by America is included.

The early scenes of the film show Jesse’s challenges.  The coach tells Jesse to look him in the eye (as a way of showing respect), and badgers him about work habits.  But Owens has worked as a sharecropper and sends money home to support a daughter.

There’s some attention to German construction of the stadium, and the point is made that it couldn’t have been built in Washington DC because of the height limit by “zoning”.

The film points out that Owens still faced segregation when he returned to the U.S.

The Universal DVD has a “Making of” featurette, as well as supporting shorts, “Becoming Jesse Owens” and “The Owens Sisters” (the latter about the support from the estate). As with many period films, meticulous attention to detail was necessary for the sets.

For me, the film did not pull as much interest as the baseball film “42” about Jackie Robinson of the Brooklyn Dodgers.  But the film gets mentioned in the script of “Get Out” (Feb. 25).

I can relate my own personal experience with track:  in 10th grade, I remember how winded I was after running the 440 in PE class the first time.  But in the Army I ran the mile in about seven minutes in combat boots.

I had a good friend (chess player) of contemporary age whose last name was “Race” (Hungarian ancestry, anglicized) when living in northern New Jersey in 1973.

Name: Race
Director, writer:  Stephen Hopkins
Released:  2016
Format:  2.35:1
When and how viewed:  Netflix DVD, 2017/3/4
Length:  134
Rating:  PG-13
Companies:  Focus Features
Link:  official

(Posted: Sunday, March 5, 2017 at 3:45 PM EST)

“Accidental Courtesy: Daryl Davis, Race and America”: a rap musician interviews both Ku Klux Klan and Black Lives Matter people

Accidental Courtesy:  Daryl Davis, Race and America”, directed by Matt Ornstein, is a conversational (and controversial) documentary in which rap African-American musician Daryl Davis traverses the nation and talks to both Ku Klux Klan members (former and modern) and later to actors in the Black Lives Matter movement.

He feints friendship with the former “wizards”.  But the white supremacists never come up with credible rationalizations for their attitudes.   One of them says the white men built a modern civilization upon which blacks and natives depend.  But Davis logically responds with asking about out bad karma:  didn’t we build our world of plenty on their backs (taking land from Indians, and then with slavery).  There are philosophical questions about whether one share moral responsibility with one’s ancestors.

Later he visits both Ferguson MO and then Baltimore Sandtown.  The film shows clips of the unrest after Michael Brown’s death, as well as Freddie Gray’s death.  (As for Brown, I have thought it a particular tragedy that a promising future college and perhaps pro athlete behaved the way he did, though.)  He shows footage of the attacks on Dallas police in July 2016 and also of Treyvon Martin’s case.  He gets into an angry confrontation in a rowhouse business in Baltimore with a BLM activist, who refuses his handshake.

But Daryl asks, “How can you hate me when you don’t even know me?”

In the last scene, Daryl (who looks quite obese) plays piano with his rock band at a club in Bethesda, MD.  The film often provides visual backdrops with the Washington DC monuments.

The film opens with an interesting shot inside Ben’s Chili Bowl in Washington DC (next to the Lincoln Theater, site of Reel Affirmations film festivals in the past, and not too far from Nellie’s, Town DVC, and 930 Club).

Name: Accidental Courtesy: Daryl Davis, Race & America
Director, writer:  Matthew Ornstein
Released:  2017
Format: 1.85:1
When and how viewed: PBS Independent Lens broadcast, 2017/2/13
Length:  88
Rating:  PG-13
Companies:  PBS, First Run Features
Link:  official

I describe my recent visit to the Smithsonian National Museum of African-American History and Culture, with many short films and videos (including a interview set) here.

There is a related series on CNN, “The United Shades of America” with Kamau Bell, April 2016 (legacy review).

(Posted: Tuesday, February 14, 2017 at 11:30 AM EST)

“I Am Not Your Negro”: sneak preview at a Washington DC high school this evening

I Am Not Your Negro” was previewed tonight at Ballou High School (sponsored by AFI Docs) in Washington DC before a full auditorium, three levels.  The film is based on the unfinished book “Remember This House” by James Baldwin, based on Badlwin’s account of his interaction with Medgar Evers, Malcolm X, and Dr. Martin Luther King.

The film is directed by Haitian born Raoul Peck, who was present for the QA with an assistant principal of the high school.  The evening felt like a reprise of my own days as a substitute teacher ten years ago.  The principal said that 92% of the senior class, mostly African-American, has been accepted to college.

The film is narrated by actor Samuel L. Jackson, with the script entirely taken from the writings of Baldwin.  Peck said that he had to produce the film himself and control it, and making it took ten years.  He did raise some money from European sources, especially in Belgium.

The film takes on the mantra, “white is a metaphor for power”, and shows how, from the late 1940s until the 60s, white people really had benefited from the sacrifices of blacks – with the lingering segregation and combative attitudes – without taking moral responsibility.  During the QA, the need for personal involvement and then trend toward personal apathy by most “successful” whites was mentioned.  The film is viewed as timey given Trump and Bannon, but their names weren’t mentioned.

The film shows a great deal of the civil rights activism, especially revolving around desegregation orders and then the Selma march, leading to the deaths of the civil rights leaders. There were many scenes of riots and police activity, with some modern scenes of the Ferguson, MO riots.  The deaths of young black men (such as Treyvon Martin) gets covered.  There was one metaphorical scene shot with images from the surface of Mars.

The film also covered Baldwin’s time in Paris, and mentioned (showing typing of memos) J. Edgar Hoover’s view of him as a security risk and a “homosexual” (as Hoover was covering up for himself).  Baldwin says he came back to the US “to pay my dues”, a favorite moral catch phrase of mine.

The film has excerpts of many other films, including “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” and “In the Heat of the Night“, as well as “The Pajama Game” (white values), and even Gus Van Sant’s “Elephant” (2003, a school shooting by disenchanted, perhaps bullied white boys, somewhat similar to Columbine.)

Name: I Am Not Your Negro
Director, writer:  Raoul Peck, James Baldwin (book manuscript “Remember This House“)
Released:  2016
Format:  1.85:1   sometimes black and white
When and how viewed:  Ballou High School Washington DC AFI Screening, opens at Landmark E St. Feb. 3
Length:  95
Rating:  PG-13
Companies:  Amazon Studios, Velvet Film, Magnolia Pictures
Link:  official

QA video



During the QA I mentioned Gode Davis’s unfinished “American Lynching“.  This new film seems to have at least one image in common.




On the way on the Green Line in rush hour, I was the only white person on a crowded Metro car toward SE Washington and the Congress Heights station on Alabama Ave (one mile from the school).  Residual de facto segregation by economics is all too real.  There were a number of white college students at the reception before.

(Posted: Wednesday, February 1, 2017 at 11:45 PM)