20 February 2003 | Lexuses71
Awesome Film About A Little Known Civil Rights Incident
I saw this excellent film and was so impressed with the performances. Forrest Whittaker, in one of his strongest roles, proves once again he is one of the most under appreciated actors working today. In a town of Louisiana in 1964, at the dawn of the Civil Rights movement, he portrays a hard working man who, as a spokesperson for the Black workers in a local paper mill, is simply trying to survive in a United States that refuses to recognize a Black man's truth worth and self dignity. This small town in Louisiana of this time period is very oppressed, racism is overt, the Klu Klux Klan is a dominant force, many of the police are in the Klan, and Whittaker's character wearily knows his place, that he and his brethren will never rise above the oppressive segregation that stifles them and their families each and every day. Two things happen to spur action here. When one of his co-worker friends is beaten by the local white powers that be for simply adding his name on a posted list at work for consideration for a promotion to Supervisor, and 2 white Civil Rights workers (one played impressively by Jonathan Silverman) come to town to help raise consciousness and organize the Black locals for non-violent demonstrations, Whittaker-out of necessity-evolves into a man of purpose (and action). He and his friends form a covert group of armed military man called the "Deacons Of Defense" to protect fellow Blacks from the racist police and covert mill workers who are dead set against any integration. What knocked me out at the core of this film was the uneasy alliance/relationship between Silverman, who, as a young idealist, sincerely wished to promote a non-violent agenda, and Whittaker, who knew the only way to preserve and survive was to arm and fight the white power structure on the same terms as they did. When Silverman (and his Civil Rights coworker) get badly beaten as "nig--r lovers" by the racist locals, and the federal government announces that all forms of segregation must be abolished (per Lyndon B. Johnson's mandate), a final confrontation occurs between the white KKK supremists and the Deacons. The law now reads "local law enforcement officials MUST protect Black citizens". But will they? It is chilling for a TV film to create this level of tension, yet there is a balance in characterization, considering the touchy subject matter. Director Bill Duke shows his flair, style and sensitivity to the historical content. He filmed this explosive film in a quasi-documentary style, using some very disturbing footage, and black and white photography that makes you feel you are there. This material, while little known, was treated with utmost respect and factual data. Ossie Davis is wonderful as the local minister, who grows to finally understand that there is no recourse but to support what the Deacons are doing. And as the previous reviewer well noted, the man just cannot give a bad performance. Supporting roles were well casted and portrayed. But it is Whittaker's show all the way. I feel this film is so relevant today; it needs to be seen by all youth. Actually, everyone should see this movie. It's that moving. A must see film.