30 September 2006 | douglasgreenberg
What a perfect documentary. What a master Ken Burns is. Unforgivable is the story of the indestructible Jack Johnson, the first black heavyweight boxing champion, whose legendary style downed even the toughest white contenders inside the ring, and sent almost every white American into a frenzy of racial contempt for him, outside the ring.
Jack Johnson is such a rich subject; it seems we could never tire of him. He was the rags to riches American dream. He was the champ who repulsed an entire generation of whites - refuting their fundamental belief that blacks were by nature inferior beings. He was the pioneer that paved the way for future black athletes, who had formerly been relegated to Negro leagues. And he was the social trailblazer as well, integrating with whites in unprecedented and often dangerous ways.
Now Burns has reconstructed his life in and outside the ring through this wonderful collection of photos, interviews, film reels and archival documents. In short, I've seen no other documentary that so pungently depicts the black struggle to be accepted, and indeed, free in America.