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A black high school senior struggles with becoming a man, and living in a middle class white neighborhood in the late 1950s U.S. In protest of the paternalistic views of the Civil War emphasized in his history class, he storms out and gets caught smoking a cigar in the boys' room. Spence's crush on a white classmate goes nowhere because of her father's attitude toward blacks. His outspoken grandmother seems the only one who understands his angry growing pains, at the early stages of the U.S.'s Civil Rights Era. Written by
A movie that touches on issues of black role identity, power, inequality, sexuality and racial issues in America.
What a delightful movie about some of the issues facing Black Americans (adults as well as youth) in American society. This landmark film not only tells the story of Spence (portrayed by popular era crooner Johnny Nash) and his family as they strive to maintain or advance in a racially turbulent 1950's era America but, tells bits and pieces of our own stories as well.
Nash's portrayal of Spence, being pulled in various directions was insightful and brilliant. It brought back memories for me (some not so fond) and had me reflecting on similar dilemmas of my youth (social role confusion or ambiguity, self concept and identity, the true meaning of friendship, integrity and the price we pay for standing up for what was right, the concept of "the mask," and the challenge of walking between two worlds).
This movie was also a coming of age story for Spence as he tried to navigate "head on" through complex socio-sexual and racial issues that the adults around him routinely sought to ignore, downplay, or tolerate. At the same time, he was grappling with issues of manhood (while not knowing exactly what that meant).
Interestingly enough, the major black adult characters held an almost child-like status within this racially charged society. It was clear that the social imprint made its mark. These characters knew exactly how to smile in order to keep the peace, take insults with grace, and grin in order not to offend even though they were hurting inside. They knew exactly where their "place" was and warned Spence to stay in his.
Despite this posture, it becomes clear that the black adults in his life were just as conflicted, angry, lost and perplexed as Spence was but dare not show it. "Grandma," was a delightful exception and departure from this social stance. I found her rebellious nature refreshing. Moreover, these supporting characters were slightly less developed in the story-line than Spence.
The movie surprised me when it addressed the sexual tension between Spence and the female housemaid (portrayed to perfection by Ruby Dee). The issue of a sexual relationship between a young black man and an older black woman was clearly taboo for the time period when this film originally aired. Of course, the movie could have never gone as far as "How Stella got her Groove Back." However, it did introduce this topic area and subsequently, handled it "diplomatically." It was clear that those two would be together at some point in the film (again, somewhat risqué for the times). It was refreshing to see that it at least did not shy away from this controversy.
I found this movie to be a fascinating "Tour de France" through the rapidly unpredictable twists and turns of socio-sexuality and racial expectations, power concepts, and self-identity which many within minority communities still grapple with today.
I view this as a "thinking man's movie" in that it leaves you with things to ponder. I appreciate that in a film. It is clearly rare among today's films. To me, this movie looms as a refreshing reminder, a confirmation that, with very few exceptions and under current conditions, the very best of nearly everything: the arts, TV, literature, cinema and music is behind us. This movie earns TEN stars...
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